The Little Mermaid has broken a big Disney Plus record just days after it joined the streaming giant’s movie library.
Per a Walt Disney Company press release, the live-action remake of Disney’s 1989 animated classic was watched 16 million times in its first five days on the platform. That makes it the most-viewed Disney Plus movie premiere of all-time, according to the entertainment behemoth’s internal data.
The Little Mermaid, which boasts Halle Bailey, Melissa McCarthy, and Javier Bardem among its starry cast, only joined Disney Plus’ back catalog on Wednesday, September 6. On average, then, the live-action-CGI hybrid flick has been streamed 3.33 million times each day (at the time of writing) since it surfaced on one of the world’s best streaming services.
The Rob Marshall-directed musical comedy-drama has enjoyed a pretty good run since it initially debuted in theaters in late May. It scooped up nearly $570 million at the global box office, which is enough to push one of 2023’s many new movies into this year’s top 10 highest-grossing films. Add its exceptional performance on Disney’s streaming service into the equation, and Disney can bask in the glow of a job well done with its latest live-action movie remake.
In our review of The Little Mermaid, we called it a “more-than-worthwhile pivot to live action”, which also nailed the original’s iconic songs. However, we thought its runtime was a tad on the long side and it lacked the humor of its predecessor.
Plumbing the viewership figure depths
On the surface, The Little Mermaid‘s viewing figures – for its first five days on Disney Plus – make for good reading.
However, there’s a significant caveat to Disney’s data. At the end of its press release, Disney notes that “a view is defined as total stream time divided by runtime”.
Why is that important? Because, using Disney’s logic, a view isn’t defined as one person sitting through The Little Mermaid‘s full runtime, which sits at two hours and 15 minutes.
If we take the film’s 16 million views and multiply them by its runtime in minutes – two hours and 15 minutes works out at 135 minutes – we get a number equalling 2.16 billion minutes. Divide that figure by 60 minutes (i.e. the number of minutes in one hour) and you get 36 million hours. Funnily enough, 36 million hours divided by the film’s runtime equals 16 million views.
In this new world of Disney giving us viewing metrics on Disney+, it’s important to note: “A view is defined as total stream time divided by runtime.”36 million viewing hours divided by 2 hour 15 min runtime equals 16 million views.September 11, 2023
Okay, so what’s the problem? There’ll be people who didn’t watch The Little Mermaid all the way through. Maybe someone streamed, say, 27 minutes of it, got bored, and turned it off. If five people do that – five times 27 equals the movie’s runtime – you get a complete view, which Disney can add to its viewership tally. In essence, that allows the entertainment giant to fudge the numbers and potentially make The Little Mermaid‘s performance seem better than it actually is.
Disney isn’t the only company that does this when compiling streaming data. Netflix also reveals viewing figures by disclosing how many people watched a particular show or movie in any given week. Netflix provides the number of hours viewed for these projects, too, but doesn’t give us a full breakdown of how many people streamed something from beginning to end.
So yes, on paper, The Little Mermaid has been massively successful. Given its sizeable viewership, it’s nailed on to join our best Disney Plus movies list. Without a complete breakdown of its viewing figures, though, we can’t ascertain if 16 million subscribers watched it the whole way through, or if millions of people switched it off at a certain point. Until the world’s biggest entertainment firms start being more transparent about streaming viewership data, we’ll always look on such triumphs with a degree of caution and scepticism.