The Mystery Of Netflix Viewership Continues--For Now

At around the same time CBS chief Leslie Moonves was explaining how the network needed to continue to be “all things to all people” at the CES show, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos continued to tell anybody who asks that how many people watch its programming is irrelevant.

Maybe so. Sarandos reasoned with reporters at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual West Coast press tour and hotel stimulus package that buzz-on-the-street  from “House of Cards” should have been enough to prove to skeptics that many millions of Netflix’s 50 million subscribers were watching.

“There is no real business reason for us internally or externally to report those numbers,”  Sarandos said, according to the Wall Street Journal’s CMO blog. 



This is not blockbuster news (pardon the pun) but rumors of Netflix’s success with its own content will have to do, as then, so will the suspicion that “Marco Polo” is being seen by approximately no one. But Sarandos said “Marco Polo” has been renewed for another season, giving Netflix subscribers even more opportunities to ignore it.

Because Netflix has no advertisers, it doesn’t have to prove much to anybody. So it says, and so says HBO, for that matter. 

On the surface, that seems to make sense, but when Netflix is approving or rejecting syndicated programming--or a second season of “Marco Polo,” even--it must be doing so based on some numbers. As more programming drifts over to online, it would also seem that somebody is going to say, “Wait, by word of mouth, I think my package of  episodes of ‘My Hit Network Drama’ is doing great. Why should I believe you when you say it’s just so-so?” (Or the equivalent.)

My point is that as streaming proliferates, more content providers will have more places to go, and price will begin to make a difference. 

That’s the looming future for Netflix, even Sarandos said Netflix will stay away from reporting viewership numbers “as long as we can,” not never. Maybe I quibble. But when Sarandos says Nielsen can’t adequately measure all the devices from which viewers access Netflix--making measurement a problem at this point--he’s only talking about the here and now. And times are changing.

It’s depressing that mass audiences absolutely mean mass mediocrity, and indeed, the proliferation of cable programming and audience defections there allowed the networks to give up the Really Really Big Tent theory of programming.

Yet it’s hard to know where the lines are to be drawn. Netflix chief Reed Hastings told a story on himself in that regard. In the very first scene in “House of Cards,” Sen. Francis Underwood strangled a dog outside his Washington D.C home. Hastings saw that scene and urged a rewrite, which he didn’t get. According to a story on

"Hastings told executive producer David Flincher that data showed that lots of viewers were clicking away from the show because of the scene. “He said, ‘Don’t ever tell me that again.'”  

The scene stayed, and so did Netflix’s street cred.  

But what was that data thing all about?

4 comments about "The Mystery Of Netflix Viewership Continues--For Now ".
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  1. J S from Ideal Living Media, January 8, 2015 at 1:36 p.m.

    The elephant in the room is similar to many subscription services, whether its dial-up AOL or the magazine sitting on your coffee table: Many subscribed-for content/services remain unused.

    Revealing that fact would make Netflix appear as unappealing, and at risk of losing viewers or other troubles, and yet, this is the consistent pattern for virtually all subscription model businesses.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 8, 2015 at 1:43 p.m.

    I watched Marco Polo and found it enjoyable. It's hard to imagine that I was the only one. As for people subscribing and never watching, that sounds like the wishful thinking of old dinosaur media.

  3. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, January 8, 2015 at 3:13 p.m.

    The major broadcast TV networks were desperately trying to get the Aereo subscriber numbers until they got it during the recent bankruptcy. 108,000 subscribers over 18 markets. There are two ways to look at this: At $8 nobody wants to watch major broadcast TV with ads or Netflix is not going bankrupt anytime soon. Either way major broadcast TV needs to transition quickly because the expiration on the re-transmission fee credit card is still a ways but it's killing their audience.

  4. Michael Vrh from enabledware, January 28, 2015 at 3:15 p.m.

    Yes some subscription services may be used, but the real issue is that options now exist to TV, I don't watch live TV, I subscribed to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus....gladly. Alternate channels for content is the new American Dream. Long live the new King....The Alternate Content Distribution King.

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