When They See Us: Netflix’s “most-watched” show


Netflix occasionally releases information about its viewership numbers. Recently, they released information on When They See Us. What should be made of it?

This week, Netflix’s Twitter account claimed that When They See Us, a show about the “Central Park Five,” has been its “most-watched series” since it premiered on May 31.

Netflix rarely releases information about its viewership, and there are two likely reasons for this. First, like all companies, it’s in Netflix’s interest to keep certain information away from competitors if possible. As a public company, the streaming platform can’t keep things like its subscribers numbers private, but it’s been able to do so with viewership.

Second, as contradictory as it may seem, viewership doesn’t dictate Netflix’s bottom line. The platform makes it money through subscription fees, not views. Theoretically, none of its subscribers could watch anything, and Netflix would still make a lot of money.

More from Show Snob

In comparison, networks like ABC, NBC, and CBS rely on advertising for a lot of their revenue. Whether or not companies pay for commercials largely depends on how many people will be watching when their ads air. The more people are watching, the more value there is for advertisers. More viewers equals more money, so it’s important there is awareness of their viewership numbers.

But no one’s suggesting Netflix doesn’t care about viewers at all. High viewership suggests the platform is important to people, which indicates they are likely to remain subscribers (and that the content will attract more subscribers).

Additionally, Netflix has occasionally used its viewership data for self-promotion. In December 2018 for example, Netflix announced that a record breaking 45 million accounts watched Bird Box over the first seven days. It wasn’t clear how this number compared to other debuts or even whether the number was accurate, as there was no way to verify it. Nevertheless, the announcement generated attention, which was what Netflix wanted.

In announcing When They See Us as its most-watched show, one can assume Netflix is trying to generate more buzz around it. There’s arguably nothing wrong with this strategy, but some think Netflix should have to have a third party verify the accuracy of these announcements.

And even if Netflix was exaggerating viewership numbers, it’s also arguable that this would be harmless. There are certain rules/regulations intended to prevent companies from lying to consumers, but Netflix is unlikely to receive much scrutiny.

Next. The Society: What we want to see in season 2. dark

Another potential issue is how Netflix’s “viewership statements” might affect awards campaigns. Could the When They See Us announcement potentially influence awards voters on some level? It’s definitely possible, and when one considers that the announcement is in a sense meaningless, this doesn’t exactly seem right. The “most-watched show” claim is probably true, but where’s the proof?

Is it fair for Netflix to make these announcements without any verification or explanation? Some of their competitors likely think the answer is “no.” But as long as they are allowed to, one would expect Netflix to keep taking advantage of it.