Netflix’s breakout hit about chess, The Queen’s Gambit, is the service’s most-watched limited series ever, the company said Monday. Based on Netflix’s own yardstick for measuring popularity (see below…), The Queen’s Gambit has been watched by 62 million households in its first four weeks of release. A limited series is a show that typically has only one season.
By comparison, that’s nearly as many as The Irishman, Netflix’s $159 million period epic about the Mafia directed by Martin Scorsese, and Tiger King, its viral docuseries this spring.
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Netflix attributed the sensation around The Queen’s Gambit for other viral chess trends, according to Peter Friedlander, Netflix’s vice president of original series, in a blog post. The novel that’s the basis for the show is on the The bioreports bestseller list 37 years after its release; Google searches for chess have doubled, and searches for “how to play chess” have hit a nine-year peak; interest in chess sets on eBay is up 250%, and Goliath Games said its chess sales have increased over 170%; and the number of new players on chess.com has increased five-fold.
For years, Netflix was notoriously tight-lipped about viewership. The creator of House of Cards, which put Netflix’s original content efforts on the map, once said the company wouldn’t even share viewership metrics with him. But in the last year, Netflix has relaxed its near-absolute silence on the popularity of its shows and movies to help recruit talent and stoke buzz.
Netflix’s popularity figures need disclaimers. For one, they aren’t independently verified, nor are they backed up by detailed data from the company. Netflix is in the unique position that it can cherry-pick highlights, and we don’t have much independent data to verify them. Traditional media companies, on the other hand, have their box office performance independently monitored, and they’re at the mercy of Nielsen ratings as the barometer for TV shows.
Speaking of Nielsen: Don’t compare Netflix’s numbers to metrics like Nielsen ratings or box office figures. It’s tempting to compare how many people watched a Netflix show versus one on regular TV, or to estimate how much money a big movie on Netflix would’ve made at the box office. But these metrics aren’t even close to comparable because the methods behind them differ wildly.
And at the beginning of this year, Netflix switched to a new viewership metric. Netflix now counts a title as “watched” if you choose to watch it and let it play for just two minutes. With some shows or movies, you can turn them off before you even hit the main title sequence — and it still counts as a view.
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