Netflix Doubles Down On "Two Minute" Rule For View Counts And Explains Why

"Reporting households viewing a title based on 70% of a single episode of a series or of an entire film... makes less sense."

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While Netflix continues to be the dominant force in streaming services, it was recently revealed how it calculates its views, which was a bit controversial. If a user watches at least two minutes of a movie, TV show, or original series, it counts as a view. The company has revealed exactly why they decided on that as their viewing metric.

In a letter to shareholders released on January 21, Netflix explained why this change was made. "We've been working on how to best share content highlights that demonstrate popularity," stated the letter. "Given that we now have titles with widely varying lengths--from short episodes (e.g. Special at around 15 minutes) to long films (e.g. The Highwaymen at 132 minutes), we believe that reporting households viewing a title based on 70% of a single episode of a series or of an entire film, which we have been doing, makes less sense. We are now reporting on households (accounts) that chose to watch a given title (Chose to watch and did watch for at least 2 minutes--long enough to indicate the choice was intentional--is the precise definition)."

Finding something to watch on the streaming service can take up a user's time--something the satirical website The Onion pointed out in 2014--so the "two minutes of watch time" to calculate what does and doesn't count as a view does makes sense from that perspective. How many times have you spent way too long just finding something to watch on the service? It happens to everyone, so when you do click, it's intentional.

"Our new methodology is similar to the BBC iPlayer in their 1 rankings based on 'requests' for the title, 'most popular' articles on the New York Times which include those who opened the articles, and YouTube view counts," reads the letter. "This way, 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."

However, comparing Netflix--a premium subscription service--to YouTube--an ad-supported service--doesn't work as well here, as many monetized channels have ads up front, as well as numerous times within the video, depending on the length. Yes, clicking "play" on a video automatically counts as a single view, but YouTube and Netflix operate very differently from each other, as far as streaming services go. And with the New York Times, the two have a very similar subscription-based model but produce two entirely different pieces of media.

When it comes to this new way to calculate views, it's all about producing bigger numbers, and that's already become clear, which was established in the letter. "The new metric is about 35% higher on average than the prior metric." Of course, your numbers will be higher when the means of calculating them become much more laxed.

Some people may find this a bit misleading, as this doesn't reveal how many users actually watched a full episode of a TV show or a movie. It could be seen as a way to boost numbers for investors, but all-in-all, it doesn't affect daily users of the service. It may have long-term affects on content creators for Netflix though, as there is no transparency to the public for how long people are watching these hit shows and movies.

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