What We Watched (And Didn't Watch): Netflix's First Engagement Report
What We Watched (And Didn't Watch): Netflix's First Engagement Report

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For the first time in its history, Netflix has released detailed information on how much is being watched on the platform. After decades of secrecy and vague viewing numbers frustrating show-runners and actors, we finally have some answers. Thank you to the WGA strike for forcing the release of this data!

They’re calling this their “What We Watched” report and publishing it twice yearly. It lists every entry on the Netflix platform, its release date (for Netflix originals), whether it’s available internationally, and its hours viewed rounded to 100,000 hours.

Frustratingly, it lacks vital information. There is no listing of each entry’s Netflix ID (The number that shows up in your browser after netflix.com/title/), no info if it’s a TV show or a Film, no idea on the length of the entry, or even if it’s a Netflix original series.

Still, it’s an exciting treasure trove of data for a nerd who loves TV and film. I spent a few hours going through the top 100 entries on the list, adding some helpful information for comparison, and finding some surprising insights from the list.

“Hours Viewed” Is Intentionally Misleading

The headline metric across the report is “hours viewed rounded to 100,000”. Specifically, if between 0 hours and 100,000 hours, it’s rounded up in the report. An incredible 3,812 titles fall into this minimum bucket of 100,000 hours. That’s around 20% of the entire Netflix platform that could never have been viewed in 6 months.

The “hours viewed” metric also combines viewing hours that aren’t very comparable. The Brazilian Telenova “Chiquititas (2013)” is #38 globally (162,000,000 hours viewed). The context that is missing? It has 473 sixty-minute episodes on Netflix. Only around 342,495 views of the entire series have occurred, meaning fewer subscribers engage with that content.

The film “Your Place or Mine” ranks above it at #37 (163,000,000 hours viewed). Its 1h51m length means it’s been viewed 88,108,108 times - 257 times more than “Chiquititas (2013)”.

I spent some time breaking out the top 100 even further with the length per entry and the number of entries to get a more accurate sense of “user views.” Unsurprisingly, the top entries mainly were films, not TV shows. Overall ranked #14, “The Mother,” and #33, “Murder Mystery 2,” take the top two spots, with 127,067,797 and 117,033,708 “views,” respectively. It’s not until the third place that a TV series shows up - “The Night Agent: Season 1” with 108,280,000 views.

Am I old and out of touch?

I watch a lot of films and TV. I keep track of the industry. I even write about what I’m watching every month. But I have watched so little of what is most watched on Netflix.

In the top 25 entries, the only things I’ve watched are “BEEF,” “The Diplomat,” and a regretful hate-watch of “Extraction 2”.

I don’t know what that says about me. Am I old and out of touch? Am I no longer Netflix’s target audience? Should I even be paying for a Netflix subscription anymore?

Looking through some of the most watched entries, I see they’re not even anything I am interested in. I’m not missing out on anything.

Cancellation Surprises

I was a big fan of the Shadow and Bone series of books and was delighted when Netflix announced an adaptation. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two seasons and was surprised by its cancellation this year.

When this viewing report came out, seeing how well both seasons have been viewed was terrific. Both were in the top 100 most viewed entries, with Season 2 at #26 (192,900,000 hours) and Season 1 at #92 (99,500,000 hours).

It is a costly show to produce, but Netflix has other similar shows. Its best parallel is with The Crown. The highest-ranked season is Season 5, down at #153 (76,300,000 hours). It’s followed by Season 1 at #389 (42,400,000 hours), Season 2 at #551 (33,300,000 hours), Season 4 at #555 (33,100,000 hours), and Season 3 at #646 (29,600,000 hours).

Missed UX Opportunities

Netflix Bojack UX

Digging around in the low-hanging “100,000 hours” entries, I noticed a variety of memorable episodes and spin-off series that are being completely missed because Netflix treats them as separate from their related TV show.

A perfect example of this is BoJack Horseman. Season 1 from 2014 is still raking in a reasonable 13,600,000 viewing hours. It has a Christmas Special episode that integrates with the first season, “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish,” but is displayed separately in the library.

If it was displayed as part of the TV season in the Netflix UI, it is easy to assume that it would generate millions of hours of viewing for Netflix.

Is “Netflix Is a Joke” a Joke?

Netflix is a Joke

Over the last few years, Netflix has focused heavily on standup specials, even putting on a standup festival. Standup specials were a great fit for Netflix, being cheap to produce and a reliable way to consistently add new content to their library to keep people coming back.

Looking through this data, is anyone watching standup specials on Netflix?

Highly controversial specials seem to be doing OK - “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage” is at #491 (36,200,000 hours), but nothing else released in 2023 comes close.

“John Mulaney: Baby J” lands at #1748 (11,900,000 hours), “Amy Schumer: Emergency Contact” at #4639 (3,200,000 hours), “Mae Martin: SAP” at #6741 (1,500,000 hours), and “Hannah Gadsby: Something Special” at #6916 (1,400,000 hours)

It seems that many of the specials on the platform are in the “100,000 hours” bucket - including “Patton Oswalt: Annihilation,” “Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything: Special,” “Judd Apatow: The Return,” “John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch,” “Marc Maron: Too Real,” and “Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.”

Weekly Talk Shows Don’t Age Well

I was surprised when Netflix announced “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” in 2018 - their take on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. I thoroughly enjoyed “Patriot Act” while it was on the air and was disappointed when Netflix canceled it in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, no one is going back and watching old episodes of a weekly talk show. Seasons 1 through 5 are all in the “100,000 hours” bucket, and only season 6 scrapes it into the “200,000 bucket”.

At the time of cancellation, there was a lot of frustration about Netflix canceling a critically acclaimed show, but clearly, the root cause was that weekly talk shows don’t make sense for the Netflix model.

International Netflix is Huge

International Netflix

The top 10 most viewed shows on Netflix include a Korean show (The Glory) and a Spanish show (La Reina del Sur). Only 66% of the top 100 entries are English language shows. 15% is Korean, and 16% is Spanish.

New Content is King

Netflix New Content Viewing hours

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top 100 content is dominated by new content. Over 50% of the hours viewed are from content released in 2023, with 24% from 2022.

TV > Movies

Netflix TV vs. Movies

The top 100 movies had 1,784,000,000 hours of viewing. The TV series had 16,528,100,000 hours of viewing. 90% of all viewing hours are TV shows.

It makes it more surprising that Netflix continues to make big-budget films instead of focusing on shows.

What did I miss?

Is there anything interesting in the data that I overlooked? Please share it in the comments!

I’ve made my modified Netflix Engagement Report Public on Google Sheets.

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