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Netflix’s New Metrics Are Good But Not Good Enough

Netflix on Monday rolled out a feature that purports to show the top 10 most popular shows and series on a daily basis.


Metrics are murky in the streaming era. Of all the disruptions streaming has wreaked on the entertainment industry, this problem is sneakily one of the most serious. There’s great value in knowing what our culture is consuming, and without traditional ratings and ticket sales, we’re increasingly in the dark.

On Monday, Netflix announced it had taken a giant step towards addressing this problem. The streamer immediately rolled out a feature that purports to show the top 10 most popular shows and series on a daily basis. Users are able to see the top 10 offerings overall, but also lists that break down the top 10 films, and the top 10 series.

Visually, it’s a small change, but the impact may be huge, steering viewers frustrated by the option paralysis Netflix’s vast archive induces towards a smaller list of easy selections. It may mean we all end up with more similar viewing patterns, drawn into this smaller pool of content. Deciding what to watch on Netflix is impossible, so the tool seems like something users will utilize eagerly. Time will tell.

According to Netflix, the top show in the U.S. on Tuesday is its buzzy reality series “Love is Blind.” (“The Office” was in seventh place.) The top movie was “The Last Thing He Wanted,” Netflix’s new thriller starring Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway. Puzzlingly, “Bad Moms Christmas” and “The Grinch” were in sixth and tenth place.

As someone who covers entertainment, this is helpful information. I had started to sense, for instance, that “Love is Blind” was gaining steam even outside the media, with regular viewers. But with the show in the top slot, that’s fairly conclusive. Absent metrics, it’s much easier for educated urban journalists sitting in coastal newsrooms, whose tastes are obviously distinct, to determine what matters. That’s not healthy at all.

Unfortunately, while the move will provide some welcome insight, its value is still limited. As The Hollywood Reporter noted, “the company is not releasing viewership data.” That means “the popularity of a title will be based on Netflix’s new measurement system, which counts someone choosing to watch a title for two minutes as a view.” To be clear, that’s a two-minute minimum, no viewership data, and no third-party verification. Nielson ratings aren’t perfect, but they’re better than this.

Netflix and other streamers, music apps included, enjoyed dizzying ascents to dominance. Their disruptions were both dramatic and rapid. The process of adapting to those disruptions is just beginning. Hopefully, however, it will involve more measures to provide transparency. When it comes to knowing what our culture is consuming, especially as we cluster increasingly in niches, the stakes are surprisingly high.