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Solve for Why: The Imaginary Numbers of Streaming — TV Podcast

We need a Freedom of Information Act, but for streaming platforms.

Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie in

To the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention to big-name TV releases recently, Disney issued a statement on Monday triumphantly announcing that the latest Marvel Studios series, “The Falcon and The Winter Solider,” had the most watched opening weekend of any series premiere on Disney+.

It was great news for people who take global corporations at their word and less helpful for those of us who prefer said corporations take the time to show their work.

See, conspicuously lacking in Disney’s statement is any facts or figures to back up their viewership claims, which is troubling, but not surprising, as streamers are often loath to reveal exactly how many people are watching their products, for how long, and in what amounts.

To that end, if Disney never gave consumers numbers for how many people watched “WandaVision,” the first Marvel Studios live-action series on its opening weekend, there’s no reason to tell them how many people watched “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” There’s no point of comparison to make between the two because no one knows anything about either.

That claim would be one thing — saying that one show had more viewers than another show, without revealing any information that would corroborate the statement, or any other statement with regard to viewership — but it turns out, the claim might not even be true.

Shortly after Disney released its statement on Monday, Reelgood, an app that, according to its website, “takes all the various movies and TV shows that have ever been made (almost) and tells you where you can watch them” released its own makeshift viewership numbers not just for “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” but also for “WandaVision,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”

According to the app, based on the shares of its two million users, “WandaVision” was actually the most-watched superhero story told in its opening weekend, followed by the recut “Justice League,” the second “Wonder Woman,” and then, finally, the Sam and Bucky show.

Do I think that Reelgood has a flawless and representative methodology? I do not. Do I think their viewership claims are accurate? I don’t know. Do I trend toward believing them because, if nothing else, they’ve provided a level of transparency with regard to how they came to their conclusions? Absolutely.

"WandaVision"

“WandaVision”

Disney+

It’s not like Disney invented this game, it’s that they might have perfected it. Releasing announcements that provide, in earnest, no information is a ballsy move. Even Netflix flirts with actual numerics when providing their largely imaginary numbers. Who is actually watching and is it people or a household and how long are they watching for and, really, what counts as a view anyway, particularly if your platform has autoplay — these are all questions that have been left unanswered by many streamers that attempt to boost buzz for their wares.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. People know what organizations are up to when they release these shady statements and all it does is add to a growing distrust between consumers and corporations.

Streamers need to get it together and either release consistent viewership numbers with transparent methodology or they need to stop making viewership claims altogether. Anything dealing in imaginary numbers has got to go.

For more about the absurdity of releasing announcements with no actual transparency, check out this week’s episode of IndieWire’s TV podcast “Millions of Screens” as hosts Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers, Creative Producer Leo Garcia, and, myself, TV Awards Editor Libby Hill, whine about imaginary numbers more than teenagers learning pre-calc.

Plus, the team looks at HBO Max in the 10 months since its launch and the renewed sense of excitement around the streamer after last week’s release of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” And stick around for an update on the awards landscape, where Netflix’s “The Crown” and Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” continue to clean up.

In keeping with ongoing social distancing mandates, this week’s episode was again recorded from the comfort of everyone’s respective apartments, and we’re again offering viewers a video version of the podcast, as embedded above.

Millions of Screens” is available on AnchorApple PodcastsBreakerGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.

This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia.

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