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Netflix ‘Views’ And The Not-So-New Snake Oil Salesmen

Everyone reporting on Netflix’s latest PR push — sorry, “view” standard change? Hi. We’ve got a bone to pick. Namely, that it sure feels like we’ve seen this before.

So, yes: Netflix is taking a page out of the digital video playbook and changing its standard for what counts as a “view” from 70% completion of an episode of TV (or the whole film, if it’s a movie) to… 2 minutes of one episode (or the whole movie). Pardon us while we chuckle at the idea of someone tuning in to The Irishman for 2 out of its 209 minutes and being counted as a viewer.

This view standard is snake oil, but worse, it’s not even new snake oil. Remember when digital companies’ view standards were so low that they were essentially counting the video loading as a “view”? Heck, the MRC view standard for digital video is still a mere 2 seconds.

The problem with this view standard isn’t just that it makes a mockery of the word “view.” Facebook created a view standard that by no means reflected the actual viewing done on its platform, and then got sued for fraud. Publishers decided to pivot to video—laying off hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists in the process—on the basis of this snake oil.

True, the consequences for buying this particular snake oil are likely less catastrophic than journalism’s “pivot to video.” You’ll probably see more creatives and filmmakers trying to get on on all those Netflix views, possibly resulting in a scramble for talent at other streamers and TV networks. But the impact of this view standard will probably be limited to the public simply thinking Netflix original series and films are more popular than they actually are. The actual measures of Netflix’s business health — subscribers, ARPU, free cash flow — will tell the true tale to Wall Street and savvy reporters.

If we’re frank, TV networks have a similar view standard they’ve been attempting to push on media reporters for what feels like ever—they send out press release after press release about the “reach” of their shows. The difference is that most media reporters know the difference between “reach” and “audience.”

Hopefully after this latest kerfuffle, they’ll get the picture when it comes to Netflix.