Netflix is not entirely chill about NBC’s attempt to reveal their ultra-secret TV ratings.
The streaming company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos disputed and mocked the broadcast network’s press conference, where NBC’s analytics guru Alan Wurtzel claimed that a company had figured out the streaming service’s viewership numbers.
“So there’s a couple of mysteries in play for me. One is why would NBC use their lunchtime [press conference] to talk about our ratings,” Sarandos told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Pasadena on Sunday morning. “Maybe cause it’s more fun to talk [about] than NBC’s ratings. The second is, the whole methodology and the measurement and the data itself doesn’t reflect any sense of reality of anything that we keep track of. That could be because 18-49 year old viewing is so insignificant to us. I can’t even tell you how many 18-49 members we have. We don’t track them. It’s an advertising-driven demographic that means nothing to us. I don’t know why anybody would be spending so much energy and time and given what I believe is remarkably inaccurate data … I don’t understand the methodology of it. The outputs don’t reflect any reality that we track.”
The executive also fired a broadside at traditional networks focusing on week-to-week ratings, claiming that creatives thrive when under less performance pressure. “There’s a very natural inclination to say, relative to this show, this [other] show’s a failure,” he said. “That puts a lot of pressure on the talent that we don’t want … if we turn it into a weekly arms race by doing box scores for every [Nielsen-issued ratings report, we’re] going to have the same result as it’s had on [traditional] television, which I think has been remarkably negative in terms of the quality of shows.”
The streaming company is notoriously secretive about revealing the viewership of series like Daredevil, House of Cards, and Narcos. The company’s lack of ratings transparency frustrates traditional networks like NBC who are rated by Nielsen and have seen their share of live viewerships shrink dramatically in recent years — with the media reporting every weekly decline — while streaming companies rise in popularity, rack up awards and buzz, all without having to reveal how many viewers are actually watching their shows.
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Wurtzel presented Netflix ratings as estimated by technology company Symphony, which measures TV viewership among its sample group using “audio content recognition technology” — software loaded on to users’ phones that tracks viewership by capturing the soundtrack of the programs they watch. According to that data, measuring September through December, Marvel’s Jessica Jones averaged 4.8 million viewers among adults 18-49, the drug kingpin thriller Narcos had 3.2 young adult viewers and new comedy Master of None had 3.9 million. None of these titles is Netflix’s most popular show, however (in a rare bit of insight, Netflix has previously noted its biggest show is Orange is the New Black — which drops in the summer, outside of this study’s sample period).