An incidental comment I make a lot when writing about streaming, especially Netflix, is that any reporting on “the numbers” must be taken with a grain of salt because there is no real transparency regarding how many people are actually watching streaming shows and movies. With traditional theatrical release, there are third party analysts that certify the numbers of tickets sales and revenue released by theaters. In the streaming space, third party reporting is based on viewable statistics like app downloads, but the actual data on viewership comes from the streamers themselves with no independent verification. Whenever Netflix says something is a “hit”, it may well be, but we have no way of knowing for sure.
Third party analysts are starting to form metrics for streaming, though, and one of them, 7Park, uses a census-based pool of viewers who own smart TVs, which sounds like how Nielsen used to work in ye olden times, with viewers having a “Nielsen box” in their house that logged their viewing habits. So it is interesting that 7Park, which has something of a scientific process, is reporting that Hamilton was the biggest thing on any streaming platform in July. That’s hardly surprising, because Hamilton dominated social media over the 4th of July weekend, and while it’s not scientific, a good way to get a handle on whether or not something on streaming is taking off is its presence on social media.
According to 7Park, 37% of their viewers watched Hamilton in July, more than twice the next most viewed titled, Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries reboot (I miss Robert Stack). More important than measuring pure audience size, though, 7Park also measured the amount of time people spent watching a specific title. Time spent watching has been rendered almost meaningless because of Netflix’s extremely dodgy method of measuring viewership: you only have to watch TWO MINUTES of a program to be counted as a “view”. To that end, 7Park measured time spent viewing specific titles, and Hamilton still outpaced it nearest competitors, Grey’s Anatomy and The Office.
These are interesting numbers, as the social media clamor indicated that Hamilton created a real blockbuster moment in July. 7Park’s data suggests that was indeed so, and that it is possible for streaming services to produce “blockbusters” (which is good news for Mulan). This is still not as decisive as traditional box office reporting, as this is an independent company basically building these metrics around the wall of silence that consumes streaming platforms. It’s better than nothing, and certainly better than just taking the streaming companies at their word that XYZ title is a hit, but it would still be better if the streamers themselves released full data sets that could be independently verified. Also, the sample size could stand to be bigger. 7Park’s sample set is 15-25,000; at its peak, Nielsen was in millions of homes. Still, this is a start and an interesting glimpse into streaming blockbuster success, and it indicates that Hamilton is, so far, the defining blockbuster of summer 2020.