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Has Nielsen Been Shortchanging Netflix on Streaming Metrics?

Netflix film 'Don't Look Up'
(Image credit: Netflix)

Nielsen's still somewhat nascent weekly rankings of U.S. subscription streaming shows and movies have scratched vanity wants for publications like this one, which tend to breathlessly report these kinds of metrics.

Nielsen's minutes-viewed audience measurements aren't used for more salient things like, say, arbitrating ad sales, which is probably a good thing. 

We noticed Thursday that the research company tallied Netflix's Adam McKay-directed film Don't Look Up with 521 million viewing minutes in the U.S. for the week of December 20-26, which didn't even rank in the top 10 most watched SVOD shows that holiday week domestically. 

For that same December 20-26 period, however, Netflix claimed Don't Look Up captured just over 111 million hours of viewing globally, and that the end-of-the-world-send-up was its No. 1 movie both globally and domestically that holiday week. 

Making apples look more like apples, the 521 million U.S. viewing minutes reported by Nielsen, divided by 60, translates to about 8.7 million viewing hours. 

So, unless no one is wrong, Don't Look Up -- an American-made movie full of American talent and targeted largely to American audiences -- captured just 8% of its total Netflix audience in the U.S. The measurement seems more unbelievable when you consider that around 35% of Netflix's nearly 222 million global subscribers live in the U.S. and Canada. 

Also read: Netflix Shocks -- Shocks! -- Investors by Forecasting Only 2.5 Million Customer Adds in Q1

Nielsen was quick to issue a mea culpa when we checked them on this with an email, responding that the Don't Look Up audience was "not fully credited," and that the movie will be "issued additional minutes" in Nielsen's report next week. 

Of course, with Netflix now publishing its own time viewed metrics, that got us thinking -- how much more "not fully credited" content is there to be found in Nielsen's weekly "Streaming Highlights"?

For the same Christmas week period, for example, Netflix tallied its original series The Witcher as capturing nearly 230 million viewing hours across Seasons 1 and 2.

Nielsen concurred that The Witcher was the top show in all of the U.S. SVOD business that week, tallying its U.S. audience consumption at just over 2.7 billion minutes that week. That breaks down to around 45 million streaming hours, or about 20% of the show's total Netflix-reported viewing that week. 

Sure, The Witcher is shot in Poland, but it's an English-language series with an American EP/showrunner (Lauren Schmidt) and a British star (a former Superman no less, Henry Cavill). Nielsen's number seems low to us. Or Netflix's measurements are too high? 

Either way, one of these things is not like the other. And with both Nielsen and Netflix using similar measurements for the same time periods, we'll continue to breathlessly watch for these kinds of discrepancies going forward. ■

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!