Once upon a time, the knock on Netflix was its glaring lack of transparency, specifically when it came to sharing viewership data. In June 2021, Netflix first released its Weekly Top 10 lists, ostensibly to shut creators — and the press — up. Turns out, that only silenced the creators of its hit shows and movies.

Along with the glaring issues of AI and residuals, a lingering lack of overall transparency across streaming was a major topic this spring, summer, and fall during the writers and actors strikes. With those picket lines still closer than they appear in Netflix’s rearview mirror, the streaming leader is getting even more transparent-er(?).

On Tuesday, Netflix announced it would be opening its ledgers twice a year, sharing the hours viewed for any and every title that was streamed for at least 50,000 hours over six months. The threshold is a bit lower than that sounds.

The data dump feels like a direct response to the strikes, but Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said that is not the case. “This has been on a continuum for several years. So this is not driven by anything different than that,” he told IndieWire on a conference call with the media.

To be clear, Netflix has had and used this data for years, but the timing of its public release is rather convenient — the WGA strike ended on September 27 and SAG-AFTRA’s concluded November 9.

Sarandos further said an “unintended consequence” of Netflix’s limited transparency “was this kind of mistrust in this environment and mistrust around the data. So we’re here, this is probably more information than you need. But I think it creates a better environment for the guilds and for us — for the producers, for creators, and for the press.”

He’s right about the TMI. The first such public report, released on December 12 and covering January-June 2023, included precisely 18,214 titles — those titles accounted for 99 percent of all Netflix viewing for the period. The report includes any and all new and old series and films, so long as they make the mark. The report denotes if a title was available globally or not; all the hours in all the territories count. The list is not sortable by type of title (film vs. series) or ownership (Netflix originals vs. licensed content).

Sarandos has been filtering and sorting this stuff on his own since the days he was chief content officer and not co-CEO. Back then, sharing the data wider “wasn’t in our interest,” he told reporters.

“From the earliest days, it really wasn’t 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 roadmaps to future competitors,” Sarandos said. “And by not revealing public data, there was something that creators liked a lot about it too, which is it took a lot of pressure off of the overnight ratings model or the weekend box office model and gave people room to create and not focus so much on the numbers.”

Gabriel Basso as Peter Sutherland in "The Night Agent"
Gabriel Basso as Peter Sutherland in “The Night Agent”DAN POWER/NETFLIX

If you’d like to focus on the numbers, here are some from our first crack:

“The Flash” Season 8, first released on The CW in 2014, was streamed on Netflix for 40.9 million hours, for one totally random example. That ranked 408th. Netflix original “Ginny & Georgia” Season 2, released on January 5 of this year, posted a whopping 665.1 million hours viewed, good enough for second place overall.

In first was “The Night Agent” Season 1 with 812.1 million hours viewed. Perhaps the most incredible part of that feat is that “The Night Agent” debuted on March 23, or nearly halfway through the measured period.

Impressive — as is the list, which should draw some applause from the creative community. Why not keep the goodwill going? (There were some questions from reporters as to why every six months, why not separate by country, and why dump such a massive amount of data at one time? Creatives may share the concerns.)

As part of their new deals, writers and actors won with all studios — not just Netflix — a bonus on the most successful streaming shows and movies. If a streaming film or series is viewed by 20 percent of a platform’s domestic subscribers within the first 91 days on the platform, it qualifies for the bonus. (Writers get a 50 percent bonus on top of their existing residual, while actors get a 100 percent bonus, with 25 percent of that going into a fund for other actors.) It is unclear just how many titles will actually reach that threshold; the results will be kept confidential.

Netflix’s new report is more transparent than that, but its usefulness in practice is pretty limited. Comparisons between content would only be fair if the titles had very similar premiere dates. It’s neat to know that Conor McGregor docuseries “McGregor Forever,” released on May 17, was streamed on Netflix for 41 million hours over the first half of 2023 — but does that make it better or worse than the Bernie Madoff docuseries “The Monster of Wall Street,” which racked up 59.6 million hours viewed since its January 4 release?

The Weekly Top 10s aren’t going anywhere, and they will still include both Hours Viewed (Netflix’s old key metric) and Views (its new one). The streamer’s all-time Most Popular list, which ranks films and series by views across their first 91 days of availability, is also staying put in its current state.

Additional reporting by Brian Welk.

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