Netflix’s change in view accounting and a misleading use of Google Trends

This week, Netflix dropped its latest earnings report. There are a lot of positive announcements from Netflix and kudos to them for weathering the rising competition from a plethora of streamers, so far. Nonetheless, there are a couple of notable points that I am either intrigued by or in disagreement with.

How a view is counted

Netflix used to register a view whenever a user passed a 70% of a show or a movie. Recently, the company changed that policy. According to the latest earnings report, whenever a viewer reaches a two-minute mark, it counts a view.

Source: Netflix

Netflix communicated the change in a tricky and inconspicuous manner. The explanation on the two-minute mark only came in the footer; which certainly isn’t where readers’ attention focuses on.

Source: Netflix

As you can see in the last sentence in the screenshot above, the change in the view accounting usually results in an increase in view because of obvious reasons. I don’t believe two minutes is enough to determine the intention of the audience. It is not uncommon that viewers watch 20 minutes of a show or a movie before leaving. If Netflix thinks that 70% is too high a standard, 40% or 50% would make more sense than the new implemented policy.

Using Google Trends to compare The Witcher with Mandalorian

In the Competition section of the report, Netflix dropped a Google Trends screenshot that showed interest in its currently flagship show The Witcher, Mandalorian, Jack Ryan and The Morning Show in the last 90 days worldwide

Source: Netflix

First of all, I am not sure this is an apple-to-apple comparison due to the difference in availability. Disney Plus is only available in US, CA, Australia, New Zealand and Netherlands. Even though Prime Video is supposedly accessible worldwide, while I was in Vietnam, I couldn’t watch many shows on the platform despite my membership.

Netflix said that even if Disney+ were global, the results wouldn’t be much different, citing the following result on Google Trends

I wouldn’t make that claim with such a degree of certainty. Netherlands is just a small country in Europe with about 17 millions in population. The viewership and interest in that country doesn’t equal to those worldwide.

Furthermore, the shakiness of the comparison can also come from the selection of keywords. Since The Witcher or Witcher is the name of a video game released in 2017, neither of the two keywords isn’t exclusive to the show on Netflix. Unfortunately, Google Trends doesn’t offer a feature that can clearly separate the show and the video game. The best that we can do is to filter the results by categories. I tested it out by comparing the keywords: Witcher, The Witcher,

As the screenshot shows, there is a big different between “Witcher” and “The Witcher”. The gap is even starker when “Netflix” is added to the search terms. If we set “Art and Entertainment” as the category, the picture will look a bit different

The Witcher/Witcher keywords had a spike on 21st December 2019, one day after the launch of the Netflix show while Mandalorian hit its peak on 28th December 2019, one day after the season finale. The difference between the yellow line and the red line is closer when we look at “Art & Entertainment” alone than when we look at “All categories” which may likely include the effect from The Witcher video game.

Now, the result above still doesn’t offer the full picture thanks to the difference in geographical availability, Let’s look at the US, two markets where every show is available

If we look at the United States alone for All Categories, it looks more favorable for Mandalorian. When “Art & Entertainment” is applied, it fares even better for Mandalorian

Here are the results for Canada

What about Australia?

My point is that there are several factors that affect how the search terms are presented on Google Trends and how results should be interpreted. I don’t have an idea on how the competing shows actually fare. I do believe that the way Netflix presented the information and data in its report is misleading at best.

Disclosure: I have Disney and Apple stocks in my portfolio.

“Game of Thrones” Keyword on Google Trends

Hundreds of millions of people around the globe love and watch the show. Game of Thrones needs no introduction. As the two-year wait ended on Sunday, the show is back on with the last season ever. I did a little bit of experiment to see how popular it is on search engine.

Since I use Google Trends as the tool in this experiment, it’s good to revisit what Google Trends is. I’ll let one of their own explain it

Trends data is an unbiased sample of our Google search data. It’s anonymized (no one is personally identified), categorized (determining the topic for a search query) and aggregated (grouped together). This allows us to measure interest in a particular topic across search, from around the globe, right down to city-level geography.

You can do it, too — the free data explorer on Google Trends allows you to search for a particular topic on Google or a specific set of search terms. Use the tool and you can see search interest in a topic or search term over time, where it’s most-searched, or what else people search for in connection with it.

Source: Google News Lab

To display different levels of online interest, Google uses a scale of zero to 100 for the index. Here is how Google defines the metric:

Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.

So what is the difference between this season and last seasons in terms of online interest? Below is the chart I took last Saturday with the “Game of Thrones” keyword. The spike in 2017 was during the premiere of season 7.

Taken on 13th April, 2019

Here is what the chart looks like at the moment. Same market, same time frame, only a few days apart

Taken on 17th April, 2019

The previous spike in 2017, as shown in the screenshot above, looks like Arya next to the Mountain, which is the expected spike this week. Data from Google predicts that folks will search on and talk about the show a whole lot this week.

While the data clearly shows an increase in online interest, it’s only an index and there is no telling on how many searches this season garnered compared to the previous seasons. Plus, it’s not clear on what contributes to the spike. Is it because of the household name Game of Thrones already possesses? Is it because of the wait? Is it because of the finality of the show? Or is it because of the strongest marketing push I have seen from HBO?

I find it a very interesting phenomenon. A show like GoT has been aggressively advertised. Magazine covers, interviews on TV shows, newspapers articles, behind-the-scene clips, several trailers, a viral tactic to place the full-sized thrones in undisclosed locations around the world, a red carpet in New York, you name it. If anybody says that brands such as GoT don’t need marketing, show them what has been done in the past few weeks. They are not dumb and they don’t throw money at unnecessary tasks. But at the same time, I wonder how the marketers can analyze and objectively pinpoint whether the marketing actually works for a show like GoT.