Let’s begin this story with a simple assertion: Netflix, the global video streaming company worth over $150 billion, is a shy company. It does not like talking about itself, in specifics or in financial numbers.
For a company which has its entire business model riding on subscriptions, Netflix will not tell you which are the company’s most popular shows. It made a surprising exception in January this year, 22 years into its existence, when it said that the Hollywood actress Sandra Bullock-starrer movie Bird Box was watched by 80 million households in the first four weeks of it being released. The company also claimed that 45 million accounts watched Bird Box in the first seven days of airing. Even then, Spencer Neumann, the chief financial officer of the company, said the number should be read in a more cultural context and not financial. “So, that what does it mean when 80 million households watch Bird Box? Well, culturally it means exactly the same thing as 80 million-plus people buying a movie ticket to see it or 80 million households watching a TV show.” That’s Neumann from the company’s last earnings call.
Barring Bird Box, Netflix will not tell you what the viewership metrics are for its shows—how many people watched, from where, when—these are all questions that Netflix does not answer. It will not tell you how many people chose not to renew their subscription. Or the number of inactive subscribers; those who bought a subscription only to never return and watch anything. Netflix will not tell you how it measures active subscribers; is the metric in minutes per day, hours per week or hours per month?
The only numbers that Netflix likes to talk about are total number of subscribers and subscriber addition.
In January of 2019, Netflix said it had 139 million subscribers globally, and that it expects to add another 8.9 million subscribers in the quarter that ends this March. A lot of them from international markets. Tie this to the fact that Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, said that the next 100 million users will be from India and it begs the question: sure, it has been three years, so how far along has the company come? Is hundred million (Hastings hasn’t said how long this will take) going to be possible for India? What is the company doing in the country to make it happen?
And while Netflix doesn’t like numbers, The Ken does.