'Stranger Things 4' Didn't Beat 'Squid Game' as Netflix's Biggest Hit Ever

The latest season of the retro sci-fi series is Netflix's No. 2 most watched show ever (at least, according to Netflix).

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Joan E. Solsman
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Characters Joyce and Hopper embrace in puffy coats surrounded by bloodied snow.

Stranger Things 4's final episodes landed on Netflix July 1. 


Stranger Things 4 has been wildly popular -- just not the most wildly popular: Watch-time stats that Netflix released Tuesday solidified its status as the second most popular title the streaming service has ever released, behind Squid Game. 

As of the week ended Sunday, Stranger Things 4 has been watched for a cumulative 1.35 billion hours, short of the 1.65 billion hours that Squid Game amassed in its first 28 days of release. Netflix limits how long a show's viewership can count toward its popularity rankings, and the final day for Stranger Things 4 to accumulate hours in its watch-time count was Thursday.

The watch-time popularity ranking for Stranger Things 4 has a couple caveats.  

First, those rankings favor shows and movies with unusually long runtimes, like Stranger Things 4. It's why Martin Scorsese's film The Irishman, at three-and-a-half hours long, suddenly became Netflix's No. 7 top film ever as soon as the company started going by watch-time rather than the number of accounts that streamed it.

Stranger Things 4's runtime, at 778 minutes, is nearly 60% longer than that of Squid Game. That gives Stranger Things the advantage of simply having more hours in a single season for each account to stream. (Stranger Things' latest season is also nearly twice as long as the first season of the show was.)

Second, its hours-watched total gets counted a bit differently because the season was released in two separate batches of episodes. For shows like Squid Game, which was released with the traditional Netflix "binge" model, the popularity ranking is based on viewing hours in the first 28 days of release. But if a new season releases its episodes in two parts on different dates, as Stranger Things 4 did, Netflix counts the watch time of the first volume's episodes for their first 28 days, then it counts the watch time of the second volume's episodes for their first 28 days. 

For years, Netflix was notoriously tight-lipped about its viewership. Beau Willimon -- creator of House of Cards, which put Netflix's original programming on the map -- once said the company wouldn't even share viewership metrics with him. 

But within the last two years, Netflix has become much more open about the popularity of its shows and movies to help it recruit talent and stoke buzz. First, Netflix added a top-trending ranking to its service, so people can see the most popular titles streaming on Netflix in their country on any given day. Then it also started publicly sharing popularity stats for certain titles, publicizing the number of accounts that watched two minutes of a particular title in its first month of release.

Netflix eventually launched a website in mid-November posting weekly charts of its most popular shows and movies, as well as a global ranking of all-time most watched titles. The charts are updated every week and ranked by the total number of hours that subscribers spent watching them. 

The rankings represent an unprecedented trove of data about what's popular on Netflix, detailing the most popular titles in the last week not only globally but also for more than 90 individual countries. It's the most transparency that Netflix has ever adopted for its viewership, but it's also meant to help subscribers like you have a better grip on what's most popular on the world's biggest subscription streaming service.