We have to confess, we’re always dying to know exactly how many people are tuning in to binge watch Netflix original shows.
It turns out we’re not alone either.
Between journalists, other networks, advertisers and data hunters, there’s a growing call for Netflix just to release the total viewership of content their subscribers stream. It’s certainly clear that Netflix has these numbers as well, they routinely make decisions based off of it when picking new original shows to order.
As some might remember a few weeks ago, an NBC exec spoke about how, after using a third party data provider, they found most Netflix originals paled in comparison to network heavy hitters when it came to ratings. Netflix quickly refuted these numbers, mostly by mentioning that the numbers were inaccurate and throwing some shade commenting something to the effect of “We hope NBC didn’t pay for that data.”
Netflix has never been one to be afraid to duke it out and throw a little mud toward their network competitors. Just recently, as the New York Times reported, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos commented that he felt strongly that original series ‘Narcos’ would easily be the top performing cable series. Gary Newman, co-chief executive of the Fox Television Group, argues that Netflix shouldn’t be making these claims if they’re not prepared to start talking numbers.
So why is Netflix so tight-lipped about their viewership information? Clearly, they have massive subscribership, with over 40 million people in the United States and 65 million and counting globally. Their original series programming is clearly working, as they plan to double the number of original titles they release this year. And despite all the competition cropping up, Netflix still seems poised to hold the throne when it comes to streaming movies and TV, at least for now.
So to answer the above question, Netflix doesn’t need to release their viewership numbers and ratings. They’re not beholden to advertisers like traditional networks, they order shows on their own terms to appeal to specific demographics where they’re hoping to gain traction, and they’re far less concerned about rating all their content on some absolute scale.
They’re far less interested in how a series like ‘House of Cards’ performs against ‘BoJack Horseman’ or ‘Grace & Frankie.’ Netflix mostly cares about two things, new subscribers and subscriber retention. Churning out season after season of ‘House of Cards’ might be great for keeping folks around, but not everyone is interested in ‘House of Cards’ so Netflix branches out, just like any television network would, to try and find other content that will appeal to new audiences.
As quoted in the above NYT article, Ted Sarandos commented that Netflix isn’t interested in fighting a “weekly arms race.”
“Once we give a number for a show, then every show will be benchmarked off of that show even though they were built sometimes for very specific audiences. There is a very natural inclination to say, ‘Relative to this show, this show is a failure.”
And that’s the key takeaway here. Netflix doesn’t want people comparing the performance of their shows relative to network television because they’re both after very different things. Netflix has no business fighting such irrelevant battles.