Netflix released some data* Wednesday about how its subscribers watch shows, and it’s kind of interesting. But it’s wrapped in a package that says “we spent way too much time thinking of cutesy terms for this” and ends up obscuring the interesting bit.
(*Before you get all excited: Netflix isn’t going to release numbers on how many people watch, not soon and probably not ever. Its business is keeping and adding subscribers. To some degree how many people watch a given show is irrelevant, so long as it helps ensure people keep paying their monthly fee.)
So, here’s the interesting part: Netflix analyzed viewing patterns for more than 100 shows (both original series and acquired ones) from across its global platform. It found that the median time to complete the first season of a series was five days. The median time spent watching a show was two hours and 10 minutes.
The company also found that certain types of shows — thrillers like “Breaking Bad” and “The Fall,” along with horror and sci-fi shows — tend to encourage longer watching at one sitting. Comedies, “political dramas” (“House of Cards,” “The West Wing”) and period shows tend to come in under two hours per session. Shows like “Bloodline” and “Orange Is the New Black” are in the middle.
And here’s where it gets a little silly. Netflix calls this collection of data its “binge scale,” as represented by the graphic on this page.
The “devour” end of the scale makes more sense. Thrillers encourage a what-happens-next kind of curiosity that would seem to lend itself to longer periods of viewing.
It’s the “savor” part at the other end that gets squishy. Here’s the Netflix spin:
“It’s no surprise that complex narratives, like that of ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Bloodline,’ are indulged at an unhurried pace. Nor that viewers take care to appreciate the details of dramas set in bygone eras, like ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Mad Men.’ Maybe less obvious are irreverent comedies like ‘BoJack Horseman,’ ‘Love’ and ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.’ But the societal commentary that powers their densely layered comedy paired with characters that are as flawed as they are entertaining allow them to be savored.”
Or, maybe “House of Cards” and “Bloodline” aren’t compelling enough to watch more than two a time. Also, two hours of comedy generally means four episodes, rather than two episodes for a drama. Four episodes of “densely layered” jokes is plenty.
Quantifying how people watch on Netflix offers good insight into streaming culture. Attempting to qualify why people watch certain shows the way they do is so much transparent brand-burnishing.