Netflix has a new way to measure its new original TV series: Don't look at traditional TV ratings.
Cable networks might have an ulterior motive when they release TV viewership number -- to manage their business relationships, with, say cable operators. But Netflix ultimately won't be shouting to business partners or others about how well a particular show is doing: "Why would we do that?" asked Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, speaking at the Television Critics Association press tour.
Pay TV networks/services -- including now those like Netflix, subscription VOD services -- don't carry advertising. So, unlike ad-supported networks, pay TV executives don't need to crow over ratings. The bigger deal is keeping their overall monthly churn at a minimum -- that is, not losing customers month to month.
For all ad-supported networks, advertising executives eagerly soak up information about ratings, which they use to make media buying decisions. But Sarandos believes that blathering on about ratings can put undo pressure TV producers and creators."If people watch it at a certain time, it doesn't matter. It's not our business to attract people at certain times so I can sell them Ford trucks," says Sarandos. "We'll measure viewership over the life of a license and invest proportionately to the payback in terms of customer love of the show -- retention, new subscribers, brand halo."
All that seems to be true. But Sarandos may not see the bigger picture, like telling consumers how well you are doing. Even more important, releasing rating numbers (even with the problems of the current system) can help get new TV producers -- perhaps highly successful ones -- interested in doing projects on Netflix.
But give Sarandos credit. He wants to change the game. He is not interested in the traditional route that TV producers go through when it comes to finding success on broadcast and/or increasingly cable networks.
And think about all those cancelled-too-soon shows. It would be kind of nice to figure out another way to measure viewer interest, "engagement" and overall value -- not just in pure viewing numbers.
These factors are part of a much more fractionalized TV world where success measurements are constantly being adjusted versus TV series of previous seasons/eras. Sure, AMC's "The Walking Dead" may at times be viewed as a big TV drama -- it can get 12 million viewers. CBS's "NCIS" can tally nearly 21 million viewers at one go. But what does this mean against some 300 million potential U.S. viewers?
A new TV world still needs some way to measure performance and quality, and not just for business partners -- but for TV viewers. You can only get so much from a friend's lame recommendation on Facebook or Twitter.