Does It Matter We Don't Know What's Being Watched On Netflix?

Tonight, “House of Cards” is once again the nominee in several categories at the Emmy Awards, including the award for outstanding drama. I don’t know if it will win— worse things have happened—but if it does, all six of its viewers will be elated.

Six! Where did I get that number?

Well, nowhere. So mine is as valid as Netflix’s figures, because it has provided none, which,  as Variety’s Brian Lowry today notes, angers people in L.A.  He writes that “practically everyone in TV” has grumbled “at Netflix’s unwillingness to release viewing numbers, employing a ‘Trust us, it’s a hit’ mentality.”

The Emmys is not a popularity contest (not officially) but it is rare that programs win that don’t have large audiences. Way back, “Hill Street Blues” won a load of Emmys , though it was low rated, or what qualified as “low rated” in 1981—it had a measly 28 share for the season. It became the lowest rated drama ever renewed for a second year.

I remain a little lonely arguing that “House of Cards” was just all right. The acting was first rate, but the story strained credulity to the point of no return.  

But “House of Cards,” with “Orange Is The New Black” and Ricky Gervais in “Derek,” account for more than 30 Emmy nominations for Netflix this year. Like “Hill Street Blues,” and certainly like HBO and Showtime, all those nominations have promotional weight with viewers that often translate to subscribers. 

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings doesn’t have to worry if people actually watch “House of Cards” as long as people talk about it.

Nonetheless, there are data points about “House of Cards” that give an inkling of of its popularity, or lack of the same.

Procera Networks  said in February that about 2 percent of Netflix’s US viewers watched the entire batch of Season Two episodes the first weekend it was out, which TheVerge.com estimated to be about 668,000 people.  Anywhere from 6% to 10% of US viewers saw at least one episode in that first weekend,  according to Procera data.  If the size of the early audience is a good predictor of success, it would seem “House of Cards” did all right on conventional TV terms, and probably performed well for a subscription service.

 Kevin Spacey gave a well-written and certainly well-acted speech last year remarking on the phenomenon of “House of Cards.”  In one portion, he noted the grind of conventional television noting that “last year, 113 pilots were made. Thirty-five of those were chosen to go to air, 13 of those were renewed, but most of those are gone now.  And this year, 146 pilots were shot, 56 have gone to series but we don’t know the outcome of those yet, but the cost of these pilots was somewhere between $300 and $400 million a year. That makes our ‘House of Cards’ deal for two seasons look really cost effective.”

And even if it doesn’t, well, you’ll probably never know.

pj@mediapost.com  

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1 comment about "Does It Matter We Don't Know What's Being Watched On Netflix? ".
  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , August 25, 2014 at 3:10 p.m.
    The movie Oscar has nothing to do with box office, so the Emmy should be attendance-agnostic, too. Leave it to dyed-in-the-wool broadcasters to complain about something, now that the industry's 20th century dominance has officially ended.