When Netflix said in early 2019 (via Vox) that 40 million of its accounts had watched both You and Sex Education, it seemed completely unbelievable at first. That’s because there are only about 329 million people in the United States, so if 40 million of them had tuned into one of those shows, like the company said there had, it would be the equivalent of about 12% of the American population. It’s a little unrealistic.
But Netflix doesn’t mean 40 million accounts in America — when Netflix talks viewership, it counts the entire world. As far as the company is concerned, a system like Nielsen’s (which measures domestic ratings) isn’t built for what Netflix does. Netflix views itself as a global company, so ratings would have to take into account what’s being watched around the entire world. By the way, that also means the numbers that the company is throwing out there are out of about 6 billion people, not just 329 million (Netflix does not operate in China).
Taking all of that into consideration, Netflix’s domestic ratings aren’t any better than any of the big networks. But by talking about its viewership on a global scale, the company is able to make its numbers at least seem much better than network competition.