Netflix reveals viewing data across entire catalogue for the first time

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Netflix, the streaming service that has been long criticised for a lack of transparency about how shows and films perform on its platform, will begin publishing a “comprehensive deep dive” into what its subscribers are watching twice a year. 

Its first report, released on Tuesday, provided viewer data on more than 18,000 titles, representing a total of nearly 100bn hours viewed, Netflix said. The Night Agent, a political thriller, was the most watched show on Netflix globally in the first half of 2023, with 812mn hours. 

Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-chief executive, acknowledged on Tuesday that the company’s “lack of data and lack of transparency” had created an “environment of mistrust” in Hollywood.   

Transparency on streaming services was a central issue during this year’s Hollywood strikes. Writers and actors demanded better royalties when their shows performed well on streaming services, just as they had done on traditional television networks.

But success-based payments required more information about streaming services’ performance measures. Talent agents and Hollywood unions said Netflix kept that information closely guarded — in contrast with the public releases of Nielsen ratings for traditional TV.   

Sarandos said the new data releases were not driven by the strikes but should create “a better environment for the [Hollywood] guilds, for the producers, for creators and for the press”. 

He added that the information being released “is the data that we use to run the business — this is the exact same pool of data that we’re sharing”.

Jeremy Zimmer, chief executive of the talent agency UTA, had long argued that Netflix and other streamers would have to become more transparent, and that this would be better for writers, actors and producers.

“Netflix has waited to release this data until the benefit was greater than the liability,” Zimmer told the Financial Times. “Nonetheless, it’s great to have it available for our clients and it will allow us to create more value on their behalf.”

Last year Netflix launched an advertising-based version of its streaming service, although the data release is not aimed at helping advertisers target audiences. “We use third-party reporting because that is the traditional way advertisers verify viewing for payment,” Sarandos said. 

Brian Wieser, principal at advertising consultancy Madison and Wall, said the new data is “not very usable from an advertiser perspective.”

“This is more useful for Hollywood in general than advertisers,” he said.

Netflix began disclosing more about its shows’ performance in 2021, when it started releasing its weekly Top 10 and Most Popular lists. The company said those data releases went further than any other streamer except YouTube. Now its disclosures are far more extensive.  

Sarandos said its earlier decision not to release viewership data was based on protecting information from would-be rivals.  

“In the early days, it really wasn’t really in our interest to be that transparent because we were building a new business and we needed room to learn. But we also didn’t want to provide road maps to future competitors.”

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