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SYFY WIRE The Witcher

Netflix says The Witcher just became most-binged debut, but perhaps an asterisk's in order

By Benjamin Bullard

O' valley of plenty, indeed. If only Netflix hadn’t gone and changed the way it measures viewership mid-stream, the just-revealed Season 1 viewing numbers from The Witcher might stand out even more for marking one seriously phenomenal debut. As it is, though, all we’re really sure of is that The Witcher at least sounds like a show of...destiny...for the streaming giant — even if the series’ premiere season divided critics almost straight down the middle. 

Watching Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri slowly circle the show’s Möbius strip of a timeline has been a favorite binge for millions of viewers; possibly more than for any other Netflix series ever. The service says that, by its own internal count, 76 million subscribers checked out The Witcher during its first four weeks on the platform. It’s a higher number than for any other show Netflix shared information about in today’s fourth-quarter earnings news, as reported by both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety

It’s also significantly higher than Netflix’s third-quarter reveal last year that 64 million accounts had tapped into the Upside Down by tuning in for Stranger Things 3 — but it’s not an altogether perfect comparison, since Netflix has since changed its formula for what counts as a “view.” Under the old system (which applies to the Stranger Things number), Netflix measured views according to how many subscribers stuck around for 70 percent of an episode’s runtime. Under the new system, which applies to The Witcher and other new shows, anyone who watches two minutes or more of an episode counts toward the viewership total. 

Still, Netflix is touting The Witcher and the impressive numbers it’s conjuring as the most successful first-season debut any of its original series has ever seen. And when your in-house competition includes Will Byers, Eleven, and a ravenous Demogorgon spawned in a secret government lab, that’s saying something.

The Witcher’s eye appeal can at least be directly compared with other recent Netflix debuts like Season 3 of The Crown (73 million viewers) and the Greg Berlanti-produced You (54 million). And it scrapes just beneath the big-budget, Michael Bay-directed 6 Underground action movie featuring Ryan Reynolds (83 million), though it’s interesting to note that Netflix made no claim that 6 Underground has captured as many eyeballs as Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box — which likely still holds the title as the platform’s most successful movie ever, according to a separate THR report. 

Despite an overall reaction that separated enthusiastic fans from the more jaundiced batch of critics, The Witcher’s Henry Cavill-led star power — not to mention that infamously convoluted timeline that rewards repeated views — has definitely kept fans engaged. If you can’t abide the wait until the already-approved Season 2 arrives in 2021 (or beyond), Netflix at least has you covered with its current batch of cool behind-the-scenes podcasts, which take a peek into the development, story, characters — and, yes, even the timeline — of everything we’ve seen from Geralt of Rivia's story so far.