Strictly Come Dancing attracted substantially more viewers than Squid Game on British television screens in October, according to the television ratings agency Barb.
The BBC’s celebrity dancing show attracted 10.4 million viewers for its most popular episode that month, against the 5.8 million who watched the brutal final episode of Netflix’s South Korean drama. The figures, which have multiple caveats, come from the first attempt by the UK’s main television ratings business to estimate viewing figures for shows on streaming services.
The new data found that programmes produced by traditional British television channels – such as The Great British Bake Off, Silent Witness and Blankety Blank – remain more popular among Britons watching on a television set than any shows on a streaming service.
Until now the likes of Netflix have largely avoided scrutiny of how their audiences compare with traditional live television broadcasts, resisting full transparency on viewing figures and choosing to release data selectively. This has led to persistent criticism that the popularity and cultural influence of Netflix shows may have been overstated.
Aside from Squid Game, there were only four other programmes produced by a streaming service that cracked the top 100 most watched programmes on British television sets in October. They were Black Widow on Disney+, along with You, the Guilty and Maid on Netflix. Not a single programme from Amazon Prime Video made the list of most watched shows, despite the company’s enormous investment in content for the service.
Overall, the new data shows how traditional British free-to-air television channels can still consistently deliver larger audiences than paid-for streaming services. The first episode of the much-hyped Netflix drama Maid attracted 2.5 million viewers on television sets in the UK during October. This is fewer people than watched ITV gameshow Celebrity Catchphrase, Channel 5’s Our Yorkshire Farm about the life of shepherd Amanda Owen, and an ITV behind-the-scenes documentary about Heathrow.
However, the Barb viewing figures for streaming services remain flawed. Restrictions on the technology used to collect the data mean it only counts people watching specific streaming shows on television sets. This excludes the growing number of people who watch programmes on laptops, tablets and smartphones – potentially understating the popularity of shows that are more popular with younger audiences.
In addition, streaming services encourage viewers to watch shows in their own time, making it harder to conduct like-with-like comparisons with television broadcasts where most viewers watch live. Although Squid Game was a sleeper hit, it was released in mid-September and many viewers will have raced to the end of the programme and therefore will not be included in the figures for October.
Sophia Vahdati of the analytics firm Digital i, which has created its own rival approach to measuring Netflix viewing figures, said a large number of Britons may have been missed from the figures: “We estimate that around 30% of Squid Game viewing time took place on smartphones, tablets or computers.”
Working out what Britons are actually watching is becoming increasingly difficult as audiences fragment. Barb found the average Briton watched an average of 231 minutes per day of video in October, of which 156 minutes were spent with traditional British broadcasters, 35 minutes with streaming companies such as Netflix, and 40 minutes on video-sharing sites such as YouTube and TikTok.
Following prolonged criticism Netflix announced last month it would start regularly releasing viewing data, although only for its most popular shows. Rather than use a traditional metric – such as the number of users who have watched to the end of a programme – the streaming company announced it would reveal the global “total minutes watched” for each show.