In the face of rival streaming services crawling out of the woodwork, and old-media competitors eager to reclaim their licensed content, Netflix has announced plans to experiment with ‘top ten’ categories to point its subscribers towards the most popular shows of the week. This feature is to be trialled in the petri dish of Netflix UK, starting later this quarter, but it’s quite likely that such a simple and intuitive feature will quickly spread elsewhere.
Evidently with an eye on the shared culture around modern media, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Greg Peters said of the announcement “There’s a bunch of our members that really enjoy watching the most popular shows because they enjoy watching the show and then engaging in the public conversation around the show and all of the memes that are shared. We want to do a good job to let our members know what those most popular shows are and then can participate. We’re quite bullish on that and we’ll see how it does.”
This does raise the question of what metrics they’re using to define ‘most popular’. Viewing figures are the obvious option, but that opens the door to shows that ten million people watch five minutes of and then switch off in disgust. To be fair, they’re not unaware of the weaknesses of this system: Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos commented “Popularity is a data point that people can use to choose, it’s not the most important one or the only one.”
Nonetheless, this represents a degree more openness from Netflix about their viewing metrics – even though this isn’t putting up the raw numbers, something Netflix have always shied away from, it still gives some sense of what shows are trending that week. This is in contrast to the current system of Netflix promoting what boils down to whatever they want, typically in-house productions (I seem to remember Black Mirror: Bandersnatch being prominent on their front page for a good long while).