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Tiger King and COVID-19: Netflix Stats that Tell a Story
As people look for entertainment during stay at home orders, one television show has undoubtedly been crowned king.
For the last couple of weeks, perhaps the most talked about topic online besides coronavirus has been “Tiger King.” Netflix’s smash-hit docuseries has become a social distancing cultural phenomenon, inspiring memes and parodies from everyday viewers and celebrities alike.
Netflix recently reported that 64 million households “chose to watch” “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” in its first four weeks on the streaming platform. Impressive as that may seem, the term “chose to watch” has a very specific meaning.
How Netflix Categorizes Viewers
Netflix divides viewers into three different categories: starters, watchers, and completers. Starters “chose to watch” at least two minutes of a movie or one episode. Watchers finished at least 70% of a movie or one episode. Completers saw 90% of a movie or season of a series.
In other words, 64 million households watched at least two minutes of one episode of Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, John Finlay and company.
Streaming services aren’t required to report viewing numbers for ad sales, so they can make their own rules for how they report viewership. Netflix calls these stats “cultural metrics.” It’s far from the only company to take that approach – look no further than the iconic McDonald’s “billions and billions sold” claim.
Good Metrics Can Help Convey Meaning
On one hand, these descriptors humanize numbers in a way that tell a specific story about the different ways subscribers watch Netflix. On the other, Netflix has opened itself up to criticism of how it counts viewership, leading many in tech to accuse the company of inflating its numbers.
Some statistics need to be straightforward. Financial and regulatory reporting don’t call for creativity. But if Netflix’s metric is really stating that 64 million households watched at least 2 minutes of “Tiger King,” does that take away from its triumph? According to hype that is Tiger King, it only adds to it.