Why Netflix Chose To Release Their Top Ten Most Watched Lists

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It’s not often my two worlds of data and strategy combine. But credit to Netflix for delivering a story that did just that last week. They announced that going forward they’ll release forty data points each week—twenty for film and TV, split into English and non-English language lists. And they released 20 weeks of data going back to July 2021. 

Yes, that’s a ton of data for me to sort, but it’s also an important story for how the entertainment industry will measure success in the future.

(As always, sign up for my newsletter to get all my columns, streaming ratings reports, and articles in your inbox.)

Most Important Story of the Week – Netflix’s Big Data Drop…Why?

Netflix is a lifestyle brand.

There I said it. Now, it isn’t a lifestyle brand for most folks, though they consume the hell out of it. (Keeping in mind, as someone recently reminded me to repeat, they are about the size of a broadcast channel, with 7% of all TV usage in America.)

Instead, Netflix is a lifestyle brand for certain among us in the chattering classes. Specifically, the entertainment industry coverage class. Trade journalists. Among us trade journalists, being a “Netflix Bull” or a “Netflix Bear” is a lifestyle choice.

If you’re a Netflix Bull, you’ll anoint every move by Netflix as the latest sign of surefire genius. If Disney had announced they would bundle mobile games with Disney+, it would likely have been mocked as unserious and not focused on streaming. When Netflix did it? A sign of genius.

Sometimes, the latest strategic move is described as not just good strategically, but beneficial to society as a whole. Netflix won’t just grow shareholder value, but spread love and peace to our society. (Many Big Tech firms have this sort of backing. I mean, there are folks still defending Facebook Meta of all places.) Thus when news broke last week that Netflix was unveiling an ongoing Top 10 list across film and TV, for both English and non-English languages, some hailed this as the latest act of beneficence from our entertainment savior, Reed Hasting.

Or maybe Netflix thought they could get an advantage by finally releasing their data?

If you’ve read me for a while, you’ll know I’m fairly skeptical about unrestrained market power. But I’m not skeptical about what drives the success of capitalism, which is self-interest. Self-interest properly harnessed has driven the extraordinary gains of human society over the last few centuries.

When I have to explain why a firm is making a bold move, I usually avoid attaching positive motivations to change the world, when self-interested explanations work better. In this case, Netflix made a smart tactical move to release this data . Today I’ll explain why they chose to release this data and why it makes sense to do it now.

Why Release Your Data If You Don’t Have To?

This is a tricky question. In particular, in a data driven world, streaming data is Netflix’s coin of the realm. It gives them an edge. Why give it away?

Well they aren’t giving away all their data. In fact, they’re giving away hardly any of it. As I mentioned back in 2018, they’re giving away the top slice of the top slice of the top slice of the top of the iceberg. Their millions of customer generate billions of data points across  thousands of shows/films every day across their platform. Forty data points doesn’t give all that much away:

Still, giving some data away is more than nothing. I see several possible reasons for why now was the time:

1. Talent wants information on what is doing well. For some talent, they had begun releasing specific performance reports, but then these were getting leaked to the press. This provides a more coherent and talent friendly process.
2. This data point is designed to emphasize the success of Netflix “originals” over “licensed content”, which helps Netflix sell a narrative to Wall Street.
3. Netflix is also changing the narrative from one of subscriber growth to one of hours viewed, which will help Netflix as their subscriber growth ultimately slows.
4. It’s good PR to be first. Which Netflix is here. Again.
5. The numbers will be “big”, and that will help Netflix continue to drive “the narrative” that they are the clearly dominant streamer.
6. Customers will like it. And like the top ten lists, it will help drive discovery of currently popular shows. Maybe Squid Game isn’t as popular without Top Ten lists driving its awareness.

Of the reasons, number one is the most compelling to me. I’m sure some talent will continue to get separate, more detailed reports, but this allows all talent a peak inside the window for how well their content is doing.

But Why Now?

Because if they didn’t, someone else would. More and more firms are providing their own estimates of Netflix’s viewership, from Nielsen to Samba TV to Reelgood/TV Time/Just Watch to Parrot Analytics and countless more. Some are global and some are regional. The future will be measured, as I wrote back in 2019, and Netflix wants to control those measurements.

And since their data is the best data—they own it obviously—their weekly releases will drive the most coverage.

I’d add two other points for why now was best. First, as the only truly global superpower in streaming, a global metric makes them look best. Disney+ can’t compete with that, as they aren’t globally available and still a fraction of the size. HBO Max just started rolling out globally, but are in a fraction of the countries that Netflix is. Paramount+ and Peacock haven’t even started. Prime Video/Apple TV+ are global, but likely much less used outside the US/Europe.

So if talent wants more measurement, and it’s going to happen anyways, you may as well control the narrative and release your own data. That’s what happened here.

Update To An Old Story – IATSE Ratified Their Deal With The Studios

Credit to Matt Belloni, but he called this a few weeks back. When IATSE and the AMPTP agreed on a new deal to keep productions going in Hollywood, he said the union body would ratify the vote. I worried they may not, especially after the shooting on the set of Rust revealed the deplorable conditions of some movie sets. 

Yet the odds were always that the Union would approve the deal, because they had too much to lose. And that was the case. Although, the deal was approved by one of the lowest margins in recent history. Literally, the popular vote was right around 50-50, depending on the specific measures voted on. This does portend more aggressive bargaining for the union the next time around.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story 

Hulu Bundles Disney+ and ESPN+ Into Hulu Live TV

Disney will include Disney+ and ESPN+ into their Hulu Live TV offering going forward, and will raise prices by $5 too. Since Hulu already comes with Hulu Live TV, this is the same as adding the “Disney bundle” to Hulu Live TV. If you’re cynical—and I say always be cynical—this could feel like a shameless way to drive additional subscriptions. Honestly, how many folks have Hulu Live TV and don’t have Disney+ anyways? By charging five extra dollars, does Disney hope to double bill some folks?

After the cynicism, I still like this move. The first wave of cord cutters is unlikely to look like the first few waves. Many people currently using cable like either news, live sports or the scroll. Hulu Live TV provides that, and now Disney has a way to bundle streaming subscriptions. If you can get three streamers bundled with Hulu Live TV, that’s an attractive offer, and if it drives the high revenue Hulu Live TV business that’s not bad either.

Long term, I still wonder if Disney will try to add other subscriptions to this bundle. Peacock tried to bundle itself in with Youtube Live TV, so that would seem like an obvious addition. HBO Max doesn’t like other selling its service, but probably would for the right price. Same for Paramount+. In other words, Disney could be subtly becoming a distributor, a strategy I thought they should pursue back in 2019. We’ll see if they do it.

Roku Plans to Develop 50 Original Shows

Excuse me while I vomit in my mouth reading about the latest tech firm to enter the originals business. Will it work? Yes, if they do it well. Apple via Apple TV+ entered the original business and has done well. Amazon via Prime Video, Audible and IMDb TV has entered the originals business and it’s been “meh”. For countless other tech firms, the results are either mixed or negative: Facebook, SnapChat and even Mailchimp! So maybe, maybe not!

The other risk with Roku is that they just won’t be able to monetize their content like other streamers. When content is attached to a specific device, in this case the Roku Channel on Roku devices, the upside is fundamentally much lower. Which means it is much harder to monetize long term

Lots of News with No News – NFTs, Pulp Fiction, and Miramax

If the higher beings running our simulation really wanted to mess with us, they’d use a random number generator to make stories. And yeah it would spit out the words:

NFTs, Miramax, and Quentin Tarantino

As such, did I even read the stories about Quentin Tarantino trying to make his own NFTs for Pulp Fiction. No. No I didn’t. There may be interesting tidbits about copyright law in there, but I don’t have time for it.

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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