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The Witcher on track to be Netflix’s biggest debut ever, but the definition of ‘biggest’ just changed

Toss a stream to your Witcher

geralt rides roach the horse in the woods in the witcher on Netflix Photo: Katalin Vermes/Netflix
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

Geralt and his monster-hunting exploits have already made The Witcher one of Netflix’s biggest shows ever. The streaming company reported to shareholders on Tuesday that just one month after its release, the series is already on track to become the platform’s biggest “season one TV series ever.”

According to Netflix’s shareholder letter for Q4 2019, in its first four weeks of The Witcher’s availability, 76 million “member households chose to watch.” The letter also says that The Witcher showed how Netflix content can “penetrate the global zeitgeist,” because it helped cause an increase in sales for The Witcher books, and video games, since the series’ release. Of course, Netflix also can’t help but mention that the song “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” has been stuck in everyone’s heads for a month now too.

While 76 million is certainly an impressive number, it’s worth noting that this latest shareholder letter also redefines the way Netflix calculates viewers. In the old metric, Netflix used to count viewers as anyone who watched at least 70% of one episode or of an entire film. However, because Netflix content varies in length, both from show to show and from shows to movies, it has decided to now count based on how many “households” — this means accounts — chose to watch a title.

The letter specifies that “chose” includes anyone who watched at least two minutes of any piece of content on Netflix. The idea here is that if someone turns something on for two minutes, they made an intentional choice to watch it.

The shareholder letter compares this new metric to the tracking used by things like YouTube, with view counts, or the New York Times, which tracks when articles on the website are opened.

Netflix is also careful to mention that this new system of reporting means that the viewership numbers will go up. In the letter, Netflix gives the example of Our Planet, which had 45 million households choose to watch it, versus the 33 million that watched under the previous metric. This leads to an increase, says Netflix, of about 35% higher ratings.

Under this new metric, Netflix also reported the ratings for several other shows and movies that have premiered over the last quarter. Michael Bay’s explosive, globe-trotting action movie 6 Underground, which stars Ryan Reynolds, had 83 million households choose to watch it over its first four weeks. Meanwhile, Netflix estimates that 54 million households will choose to watch the second season of You in its first four weeks, while 21 million chose to watch The Crown season 3 — up 40% from season 2.

Netflix also notes that it received 24 Academy Awards across eight different films, more than any other single studio. But while it recognizes the awards promise of movies like The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes, it doesn’t give specific numbers for any of them, outside of mentioning that the films were “popular with our members.”

Netflix has always been more likely to report numbers if a show or movie was a huge hit. While this new metric will let Netflix report higher numbers than it previously did, it still isn’t particularly open about viewership (the metric itself is explained in a footnote of the shareholders letter). But perhaps with the new metrics, the streaming giant will more frequently report on its more modest successes like The Crown, alongside shows like The Witcher that top its charts.

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