Netflix’s “best of” content rankings reek of bullshit. And based on Netflix’s own metrics for popularity, they are.
The streaming giant on Monday tweeted a series of “What We Watched” lists that immediately raised suspicions among the Gizmodo staff about how the company arrived at its top-ranking winners. For example Murder Mystery, a crime comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, inexplicably topped Netflix’s list of the “most popular releases of 2019.” The third season of Stranger Things, for context, took the No. 2 spot while 6 Underground—a film with a 36 percent Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes—took the third spot.
Beyond this list, its “most popular series releases” of the year also turned up some curious rankings. Stranger Things 3 took the top spot on this list—no surprise there, really. But The Witcher ranked second on the list, followed by The Umbrella Academy in the No. 3 spot, Dead to Me in the No. 4 spot, and the second season of You—which was just released four days ago—landed in the No. 5 spot.
Well, apparently Netflix has applied some creative arithmetic to these rankings. In barely legible baby font at the bottom of each of the lists it tweeted out, the company explains that content released in December “incorporate viewing predictions,” which might explain how 6 Underground miraculously shot to the top of its “popular releases” list. Moreover, the company said that the lists were “ranked based on accounts that choose to watch two minutes or more of a title during its first 28 days on Netflix in 2019.” By this metric, if you watched what amounts to the title sequence of any of these shows, you helped push them to the top of the pack—sorry OA.
Even Netflix appears to realize these are bizarre ways to rank the popularity of content on its platform. According to Variety, Netflix characterizes the lists as a way to “help members find something great to watch at a time of year when viewing typically peaks.” This might explain how the Netflix thriller Secret Obsession wound up on its list of top 10 movies released on its platform this year, or how Triple Frontier took the No. 5 spot on the list.
Overwhelmingly, the lists are a strange cocktail of Netflix originals the company evidently hopes to promote before the year’s end and a number of presumably highly popular licensed content. But again who the fuck knows because everything we know about these metrics smacks of fudged representations of popularity.
The lesson here, of course, is trust no one in 2020—but especially not Netflix.