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‘The Witcher’ on Track to Be Netflix’s Biggest TV Show Premiere Ever, Company Claims

Netflix said “The Witcher,” the fantasy series starring Henry Cavill, is pacing to be its biggest first-season original TV series ever.

The Witcher,” which debuted Dec. 20 on Netflix, was chosen to be watched by 76 million customer households in the first four weeks of release, according to the company.

That would appear to mean that some 46% of Netflix’s subscribers as of the end of 2019 watched “The Witcher” over that time span. But there’s a caveat with the household viewer number (which isn’t verifiable independently): Netflix changed the definition of what constitutes a viewer. Now, according to the company, it’s measuring accounts that “chose to watch and did watch for at least 2 minutes — long enough to indicate the choice was intentional.” Previously, Netflix reported viewing figures based on the number of accounts that had viewed a TV episode or movie to at least 70% completion.

The new methodology — which Netflix said is similar to the way YouTube tracks view counts, how BBC iPlayer reports rankings, and how the New York Times ranks the site’s most popular articles — will treat “short and long titles are treated equally, leveling the playing field for all types of our content including interactive content, which has no fixed length,” according to Netflix’s Q4 2019 shareholder letter.

The number of households counted under the new 2-minute-minimum metric is about 35% higher on average than the prior metric, per Netflix. So the new metric includes every Netflix user who was curious enough to watch a few minutes of a title — but may have given up watching shortly afterward. In short, Netflix’s new methodology even further obscures what could be considered the actual audience for a given TV show or movie.

About “The Witcher,” Netflix thumped its chest in taking credit for a lift in the franchise’s other instantiations. “As a testament to how our hit content can penetrate the global zeitgeist and influence popular culture, the show’s launch drove up sales of ‘The Witcher’ books and games around the world, and spawned a viral musical hit,” the company said in the shareholder letter.

Netflix renewed “The Witcher” for Season 2 last fall, more than a month before the freshman season hit the streaming service.

The popularity of “The Witcher” ended “the year on a high note of a massive new franchise that we’ll develop season after season,” chairman/CEO Reed Hastings said on the company’s Q4 earnings interview. Netflix’s rate of improvement will accelerate in the next few years, he said: “The quality of our service two or three years from now will be so much higher than it is today, that’s the thing that’s not well understood.”

Netflix, in its investor letter, also included a Google Trends chart in attempting to make the case that “The Witcher” was more popular than Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian,” Apple TV Plus’ “The Morning Show” and Amazon Prime Video’s “Jack Ryan” — although the relationship between Google searches and actual time spent viewing is perhaps loose at best:

Based on the best-selling fantasy series, “The Witcher” tells the tale of Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts. But when destiny hurtles him toward a powerful sorceress, and a young princess with a dangerous secret, the three must learn to navigate the increasingly volatile Continent together.

Meanwhile, Netflix released other cherry-picked viewing metrics and projections for its originals slate (using the same criterion of a watching a title for at least 2 minutes):

  • “6 Underground,” the action movie from director Michael Bay and starring Ryan Reynolds, had a viewer count of 83 million households through its first four weeks.
  • Psychological thriller “You” Season 2 is tracking to be watched by 54 million member households in its first four weeks.
  • “The Crown” Season 3 was watched by over 21 million member households in the first four weeks (up over 40% from Season 2 over the same time period); in total, over 73 million households worldwide have watched “The Crown” since the series launched.
  • Sergio Pablos’ “Klaus,” which was Netflix’s first original feature-length animated film to be nominated for an Oscar, was watched by 40 million members in the first 28 days of release.

Netflix also touted its haul of 24 Academy Award nominations across eight different films this year. The company didn’t release viewing numbers for prestige titles like “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” or “The Two Popes” but claimed they “were also very popular with our members.”

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