Netflix is finally sharing (some of) its audience numbers for its TV shows and movies. Some of them are huge.

Courtesy Netflix
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Netflix has more than 130 million customers watching its TV shows and movies. But for years, it refused to tell outsiders how many of those customers watched any particular show or movie.

Now that’s starting to change.

At the end of December, Netflix said that 45 million people had watched Bird Box, a Netflix-owned thriller starring Sandra Bullock that came out just before Christmas. Now the company is using its quarterly earnings letter to share more numbers about viewership of some of its other shows — as well as a sense of how much of your TV screen the streaming video company really owns.

The takeaways:

Okay. Now that we’ve got the novelty out of the way, what do those numbers mean — and what does Netflix think they mean?

A couple theories, which differ depending on what numbers we’re talking about:

That 10 percent of US TV time is most intriguing to me. Netflix, which tacks back and forth between telling the TV establishment that they’re coming for it (“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”) and telling the TV guys that there’s room for everyone, seems to think that this is a peace offering. In his shareholder letter, Hastings argues (as he has before) that lots of Netflix subscribers watch lots of other programming, too. “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO.”

If Hastings really thinks that’s an olive branch, he has misjudged the TV guys and everyone else who is furiously trying to build their own streaming services to compete with Netflix. The only question in their minds is whether Netflix is a straight-up enemy (the Disney/Fox position) or a possible frenemy they might still be able to sell reruns to (the AT&T/Warner Media position). Everyone takes Netflix very, very, very seriously.

But that 10 percent number is also a signal to Wall Street about how much growth Netflix has left.

Investors are engaged in a constant debate about how many subscribers Netflix can add to its total. But today Netflix is also telling investors that it can extract more viewing time from the subscribers it already has. If true, that would make Netflix even more valuable in years to come, even as its subscriber growth eventually flattens.

And, not coincidentally, it gives Netflix the ability to raise prices as it commands an increasing amount of its subscribers’ time.

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