Netflix’s quarterly earnings releases are starting to offer intriguing reveals of how many of its users are bingeing its hottest films and series — with caveats, of course, since you have to take Netflix’s word for it and the numbers also depend on Netflix’s definition of what counts as a completed view. Nevertheless, as competition has multiplied in the world of original streaming video, Netflix has used the occasion of its earnings releases to tease viewership data for its hottest properties, and the fourth-quarter earnings results Netflix announced Tuesday afternoon were no exception.
Case in point: Netflix touted that in the first four weeks following the December 20 release of The Witcher, the streamer’s fantasy series starring Henry Cavill as a white-haired monster-hunter, some 76 million customer households watched the series. And that, the company announced in its Q4 shareholder letter, makes the show “our biggest season one TV series ever.”
“As a testament to how our hit content can penetrate the global zeitgeist and influence popular culture, the show’s launch drove up sales of The Witcher books and games around the world, and spawned a viral musical hit,” the letter continues. That latter reference, of course, is a nod to the bard Jaskier’s catchy song with the memorable exhortation to “Toss a coin to your witcher.”
This certainly tracks with other anecdotal measures of the show’s popularity, such as the fact that it remains one of the most-binged series from week to week (as we recently noted here). The show is also so popular that the publisher of Andrzej Sapkowski’s bestselling series of novels that The Witcher is based on is having to print “more than half a million” new books to meet demand for the novels. Additionally, there’s chatter that Mark Hamill might even be approached to play a role in the show’s already greenlit second season.
However, to arrive at the numbers that purport to reveal The Witcher’s first season as Netflix’s biggest season one ever, the streamer decided to change up the methodology behind how it calculates this viewership. Per the Q4 letter: “Given that we now have titles with widely varying lengths — from short episodes (e.g. Special at around 15 minutes) to long films (e.g. The Highwaymen at 132 minutes), we believe that reporting households viewing a title based on 70% of a single episode of a series or of an entire film, which we have been doing, makes less sense.”
The change means that, now, Netflix is choosing to report on households (accounts) that chose to watch a given title. A footnote in the letter adds this context: “Chose to watch and did watch for at least 2 minutes — long enough to indicate the choice was intentional — is the precise definition.”
Continues the letter: “Our new methodology is similar to the BBC iPlayer in their 1 rankings based on ‘requests’ for the title, ‘most popular’ articles on the New York Times which include those who opened the articles, and YouTube view counts. This way, short and long titles are treated equally, leveling the playing field for all types of our content including interactive content, which has no fixed length.”