‘Murder Mystery’ Most Viewed Original Content, Says Netflix; How Valid Is It?

Did you watch Murder Mystery on Netflix? Photo: Stock Catalog | Flickr.com | CC BY 2.0

Murder Mystery, an Agatha Christie-inspired comedy thriller, earned the top spot as Netflix’s most viewed original film based on Netflix’s own viewership data. The movie beats Bird Box and Triple Frontier.

Officially released last June 14 in the US, the comedy flick stars Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. The two veteran actors are joined by Luke Evans, Terence Stamp, and Gemma Arterton, rounding out an all-star cast. 

Its story follows a married couple’s European vacation with Sandler playing as a New York cop with a terrible aim, and Aniston as his hairdresser wife obsessed with mystery novels.

In the movie, the couple is framed for a murder while on vacation. Sandler and Aniston must team up and use their detecting skills and knowledge of murder mystery patterns to find who the real killer.

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Despite earning a relatively low score with critics, Netflix has announced that the comedy thriller was watched by more viewers in it’s “opening weekend.” In comparison to Bird Box and Triple Frontier, Murder Mystery‘s Rotten Tomatoes score ranks last at 45%. Triple Frontier received a score of 72%, while Bird Box garnered a 63%. 

It seems that Netflix’s claims do not reflect a lot of the critics’ write-ups. With this disconnect, an issue about the validity of streaming services’ viewership data comes into question.

Netflix’s Viewership Data

How does Netflix tracks their contents’ viewership?

No one (outside Netflix, that is) exactly knows. The popular streaming company has always been secretive about their viewership data even with the creatives that they work with. The most that Netflix has previously offered is the number of its subscribers. 

But at the start of 2019, Netflix began sharing a glimpse of their viewership data — reporting big numbers for the movie, Bird Box and TV series, You. It was an unprecedented move and many wondered how valid the data is.

Unlike mainstream media like TV networks or production houses, Netflix’s ratings are not verified by any third-party company. According to NBC News, Netflix’s near-monopoly on its data has been the company’s key competitive advantages. Without sharing the data, the streaming giant can simply study what makes content success or failure without having to give up the formula that their competitors can use.

In 2017, Nielsen announced a way to measure streaming services’ viewership data called Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) Content Ratings. It tracks a content’s total audience regardless if it was viewed via regular broadcast or a streaming service. Netflix has since then shared their doubts about Nielsen’s data claiming that the gap between their numbers is far too large.  

As Netflix continues to share their ratings for selected content, critics still share skepticism with the data released. Various media critics took to Twitter to express their concerns related to Netflix’s data. “Imagine if studios just told you how much a movie made without any sort of oversight or proof,” Brian Tallerico, President of Chicago Film Critics Association, points out.

However, Netflix is firm in stating that their viewership data is not as important as subscription stats. Traditional media profits by selling airtime or tickets. While streaming services like Netflix and Hulu earn through viewer subscription. This is ultimately the reason why Netflix (and other streaming services) do not feel any pressure of sharing ratings. 

Netflix’s Strategy Against Other Streaming Competitors

If viewership is not a big deal for Netflix, why the sudden release of data from January 2019? 

According to CNN.com‘s report, Netflix increased its marketing efforts to attract more talents like writers, directors, and actors. Back in 2017, Netflix struck another exclusive (and expensive) four-movie deal with Sandler — similar to the one made in 2014. Last year, Netflix poached amazing talent with the likes of Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy. Sharing viewership data could be a part of the strategy to acquire more talent.

Of course, a valid reason for Netflix to be sharing viewership data is to simply promote their original content and to gain more subscribers. Netflix is ramping up both the quantity and the quality of its original content because of the streaming services’ booming trend. Based on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) report, streaming services have already out-shined cable television.

Aside from gaining new subscribers, there’s a need to retain current subscribers, especially now with Netflix’s announcement of a price hike. It’s well-known that Netflix’s competition in the streaming game also increased. Direct competitors like Amazon, CBS, and Hulu also showed an increase in their subscribers. New rivals like Apple and Disney is also poised to launch their streaming services from this year.

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