Bird Box is Susanne Bier’s Netflix film the streaming service released just before Christmas. It stars Sandra Bullock as a mother who has to protect her children from an unseen entity. Furthermore, if she (or others) see it themselves, they are done for.
Think of it as a visual companion to A Quiet Place.
I enjoyed it well enough, when I watched it over the Christmas period.
Subsequently, Netflix announced that 45m accounts had accessed the film in its opening week.
Took off my blindfold this morning to discover that 45,037,125 Netflix accounts have already watched Bird Box — best first 7 days ever for a Netflix film! pic.twitter.com/uorU3cSzHR— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) December 28, 2018
When questioned a little more, they explained that this count was derived from those accounts who had viewed at least 70% of the title, although that viewing may have occurred over different devices.
That left lots of people doing lots of maths.
Since then, Netflix has published its Q4 2018 results, which show that by the end of the quarter it had 139m subscriptions globally.
These updated some of those previous numbers some more. Netflix was now saying that 80m member households had watched Bird Box during its first four weeks on the service – and that they were seeing high repeat viewing.
Its Spanish school murder drama, Elite had 20m member households watching at least 70% of one episode, while Bodyguard, Baby (from Italy) and Protector (from Turkey) each had 10m member households watching an episode in each of their four weeks. NB. In the UK, the final episode of Bodyguard got a 17.8m 28-day viewership across all platforms, dwarfing the global ex-UK number of 10m over a similar period.[Update 31 January – The BBC has just revealed that the most streaming requests from iPlayer in 2018. All of the top ten individual programmes were either Bodyguard or Killing Eve. Episode one of Bodyguard alone achieved 10.8m requests. Across the series it achieved an average of 7.1m iPlayer requests. And that’s streaming alone. A useful comparison with Netflix’s 10m number for the UK alone.
Note that it’s unclear how much of a video is sent before a request is counted, so these numbers can’t be directly compared with Netflix’s numbers.]
Finally, Netflix referred to You and Sex Education both of which they project to be viewed by 40m member households in the first four weeks (estimated, because neither had actually been on the service for four weeks at the time of the press release’s publication).[Sidenote: You is now globally perceived as a “Netflix Original” when in fact it aired on Lifetime in the US where it was singularly unsuccessful. The New York Times explored this phenomenon, and tried to draw comparisons with regular TV viewing figures. However, as they note in their article 40m member households watching at least 70% of one episode globally is not remotely comparable to 12.7m people watching an episode of Big Bang Theory on CBS in the US. TV viewing numbers are averaged across the duration of a show and are per-minute. The cumulative “reach” of a show will be higher. And the number of people who watched 70% of one episode of Big Bang Theory across an entire season will be much higher again – very likely to top the 40m Netflix quote for You. And that’s just TV viewers in the US.
UPDATE – 30 January: Joe Adalion tweeted the following from a CBS press release.
In particular, The Big Bang Theory has reached 51.7m people so far this season in the US. For 60 Minutes, that figure is 80m.
The Netflix numbers are global, and refer to households, but this is a useful reminder to show how big network TV still is.]
But these are all big numbers; so what do they mean?
First of all, they are global figures and not local ones. So make your comparisons carefully. And for series, they really show the power of Netflix’s own marketing. While 10m households might have watched [most of] episode one, we don’t know how many watched subsequent episodes.
These numbers represent households and not people. So viewership will be higher than these numbers. How much higher is hard to say. People watching on their phones are likely to be solo viewers. But on a big screen TV at home? I don’t know.
It’s again important to note that both the first week 45m and four week 80m figures quoted by Netflix are global figures.
But Netflix is suggesting that a over half its subscribing homes watched Bird Box which undoubtedly makes it a massive hit.
As others have noted, Netflix keeps it’s above-the-line real estate on the Netflix homepage exclusively for itself. The very first thing you see when you boot up Netflix, is whatever they want to promote. And they promoted Bird Box hard.
But compare and contrast with the figure of 26m that US ratings group Nielsen claim watched the film in the first week. Nielsen’s methodology is very different. It’s sample-based, but the sample is big enough to provide relatively robust numbers for a big hit like Bird Box. However, Nielsen doesn’t measure mobile viewing – notably on phones, tablets and laptops. So it certainly under-counts Netflix viewership. And note too that it is a US-only figure.
What all of this shows is that if Netflix goes gangbusters for a film like this, perhaps “forcing” every subscriber who opens Netflix to see it advertised – probably with an auto-playing trailer – it can generate a hit. How would that compare with a film that everybody agrees was a massive box-office hit?
In North America, Avengers: Infinity War achieved the highest opening weekend box office of all time, with $258m. By week four it had grossed $605m in North America, It would go on to gross over $2bn globally.
Money earned at the box office isn’t the same admission numbers – for one thing, ticket prices tend to increase over time. But, if we use the Box Office Mojo average ticket price for 2018 of $9.14, we get 66.2m admissions to the movie.
Now, 66.2m admissions doesn’t mean 66.2m different people. Some will have seen the film more than once – even across its opening weekend. But that’s an estimate of the seats sold in North America across a four week period for the biggest franchise currently in cinemas.
We can probably add tens of millions of more “foreign” (i.e. non-North American) viewers to that figure. Note that international box-office data is harder to come by.
We’re left with the following:
- Globally, 80m households – perhaps 100-130m people – watched Bird Box in its first four weeks.
- In North America, there were approximately 66.2m admissions to Avengers: Infinity War in its first four weeks – perhaps representing 40-50m individuals (assuming fans went to see it multiple times).
- In China alone, Avengers earned nearly $360m, and using very rough calculations, might represent another 36m ticket sales there too.
- Globally, you can probably safely double the US admissions number, and perhaps triple it, giving us perhaps 100-150m viewers in total.
Does that mean that Bird Box and Avengers: Infinity War were actually as successful as one another?
Bird Box will have been cheaper to make, but Netflix subscribers will have paid a fraction of the cost to see it. Netflix remains loss-making after-all, whereas last time I checked, Disney was incredibly profitable.
But Netflix is capable of launching a film with an internationally known star onto the global marketplace, and to achieve a viewership that can compared with the biggest cinema hit in recent memory.