Insights & Insanity: Netflix Numbers Hard to Divine, HDTV Dinners on the Menu

There will probably be more written about how "Good Morning America" is making a run at the "Today" show with Meredith Vieira gone. But on Madison Avenue, there's arguably not a whole lot to make of the competition.

Impressively, ABC's "GMA" has surged by 10% in total viewers over the past 51 weeks by one measure. NBC's morning show is only up 2%. Also, ABC has significantly cut into NBC's lead by 32%.

Yet in the adult 25-to-54 sales demo, the gap remains the same with NBC leading by about 700,000 viewers. Both shows are up: 3% at ABC and 2% at NBC. CBS is flat year-over-year and still way behind.

"They will attack the morning news at some point," said Alan Frank, who heads the Post-Newsweek station group, noting new leadership at CBS News.

Until then, it's time for this month's "Insights & Insanity":

--Looking over the numbers Netflix reported this morning about projected subscriber declines, two of three metrics make sense. The third is a conundrum. Any theories would be welcome?



Netflix had forecast it would end the current quarter with 25 million U.S. subs, which it has revised downward to 24 million.

The company recently altered its pricing structure. A plan with unlimited streaming and DVDs-by-mail combined that cost $10 is now $16. Also new: separate plans for just streaming or just discs by mail, each for $8. (Netflix wants to encourage more customers to go streaming only, which is cheaper.)

Going inside the numbers, it appears a large group seems to be just fine with the huge price increase. Netflix projected there would be 12 million subs paying the $16 -- 60% higher -- for the streaming-plus-mail plan. That's unchanged.

With streaming-only customers, Netflix projected there would be 10 million subs. It now estimates there will be just 2% less. That could be chalked up to cancellations or slower growth during the summer months. It is possible Amazon's competitive service or the general proliferation of free Web video could he having an impact.

But what is really puzzling is why there could be a nearly 30% decline in the number of customers taking a plan offering only DVDs by mail. The figure was projected to be 3 million. Now, it's 2.2 million. Under at least one option, prices have actually declined for that plan.

For Netflix, there may be a positive in cost savings. But, the huge drop in mail-only subscribers so rapidly is hard to figure since it doesn't appear to just be due to people switching to streaming-only. In any case, it's more bad news for the Postal Service.

--As the industry pursues single-source measurement linking the impact of ad viewership on the cash register, the most accurate reflection of what happens will likely need to include sales data from e-commerce retailers such as Amazon. Nielsen said this week it has a deal with the largest e-commerce provider in China and is pursuing an agreement with Amazon.

"We've got resources in there, kind of pro bono to help them understand what it means, but like any big retailer, they are just not used to sharing information," Nielsen CFO Brian West told analysts. "So will it happen over time? Probably. But, right now we're just trying to show the power of what it can do, but that will be an Amazon decision and it's not going to happen over night."

--Lest there be any question whether Current TV aims to go left with its new political news/commentary approach, the network's new programming chief helped launch the failed Air America liberal radio network and is the author of "Naked Republicans: A Full Frontal Exposure of Rightwing Hypocrisy and Greed."

Shelley Lewis, however, did presumably play its straight in her recent role at PBS and during time at CNN and ABC.

--The "CSI:" franchise that helped propel CBS to its successful run may be fading, but it's getting a turn on Broadway. "CSI: The Experience" will be an attraction at the Discovery Times Square exhibit space.

Developed with advice from 175 forensic science experts, it "includes everything from DNA, blood spatter and fingerprint analyses, to forensic anthropology and toxicology to immerse exhibit-goers deep into the science of solving crimes."

Video messages will be from former show star William Petersen and other past and present cast members will be on display.

--New York's FreshDirect e-grocer is keeping up with the times. The company is promoting "HDTV Dinners" with something like 130 offerings. Alas, a Swanson's spread doesn't appear to be on the menu. Moving to 3D TV dinners next could be hard, considering a 3D picture can produce a roiling stomach.

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