Sure, We'd Love to See Netflix Ratings, But What Would They Even Look Like?

Stranger Things 3

Netflix‘s intermittent, self-reported “ratings” are famously met with scrutiny. But supposing the streaming giant — or any of its established peers, such as Hulu and Amazon — did cave and regularly disclose ratings for their “binge” releases. Has anyone thought about what that data would or should even look like?

For a long while, Netflix staunchly refused to disclose any viewership info, which was fine. They don’t have advertisers, only subscribers, and as such “ratings” don’t demand public dissemination.

But with the 2018 release of the Sandra Bullock-led suspense film, Bird Box, Netflix broke its own rule and in turn opened a bit of a Pandora’s Box, as many observed back then. “Took off my blindfold this morning to discover that 45,037,125 Netflix accounts have already watched Bird Box,” read the company’s late-December tweet, which further characterized that tally as the “best first 7 days ever for a Netflix film!”

We then learned how Netflix defines a “WATCHER” — a member household that watches “70 percent of a film or single episode of a series.“ And that’s a critical parameter, especially on the TV front: 70 percent, of just one episode.

(Netflix terminology also defines STARTERS as households that watch two minutes of one episode of a series, while COMPLETERS watch 90 percent of a season of a series within 28 days.)

Much more recently, Netflix said that Stranger Things Season 3 had “64 million views” in the four weeks following its July 4 release — worldwide, it has to be noted. We were also told that more than 18 million member households finished that eight-episode season within a few days. Meanwhile, Nielsen, which reports ratings for broadcast and cable TV and has tried to independently estimate Netflix numbers, said that Stranger Things 3 averaged 19.2 million viewers — though that is in the U.S. alone and not counting all manner of devices/viewing options.

For those who knit their brows over ratings, wherein lies the most “true” number? And what exactly should that number measure, for a Netflix/Hulu/Amazon series that releases all episodes at once?

Does a household’s viewing of a fraction of a single episode mean anything? (If it does, imagine the number an ill-fated broadcast sitcom could tout. “Ten million people almost made it through the Sunnyside pilot!”) Should the rating be the average audience for all episodes, or should the viewership for each episode be reported separately, to show fluctuations/trends as broadcast and cable numbers do?

But if so, how long should a streamer give people to watch any given episode(s)? That first weekend? A week? A month…?

To be clear, the aim here is not to compare GLOW to NCIS. No amount of noodling the numbers will ever create an apples-to-apples situation. But having regularly disseminated streaming “ratings” could at least let fans of those shows know how their favorite is faring against the field. So that renewals can be better anticipated, and cancellations would come as less a shock.

If you ran a streaming service, how would you define the “ratings” for a binge release?