Tracking The Mysterious Netflix Viewer

It’s odd what many people involved with online video don’t seem to know about it.

Streaming advertisers don’t always know if their messages are even “viewable” and, supposedly, content producers who create programs for Netflix and Amazon don’t know how many are watching them. I’m a Catholic and so I know there’s a lot of stuff I’m not supposed to understand, but still...

Producers are paid, presumably million of dollars per episode, and we are led to believe they do not know if their product is watched like reruns of “Friends” still are or like some also-ran sitcom.

I could see how Netflix could make its original deal to produce “House of Cards,” but how did producers know what the market value of a second season was if they had no data (and Netflix did)?  Unbelievable.

The Wall Street Journal today reports that Nielsen is now tracking the performance of about 1,000 shows available via Amazon or Netflix.

The newspaper story begins anecdotally recalling that recently Tina Fey, executive producer of the wickedly perfect Netflix comedy, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” confessing to TV critics that she has no idea how many people have seen it. “We don’t have any actual numbers,” she said. “I feel a lot of people are watching the show. Let’s go with that,” she cracked.

Well, that’s okay with me if it is with her. But I suspect Tine Fey was being a tiny bit coy.

Nielsen says it now reports data it is has collected with major studios, so they have some idea what they should charge Netflix or Amazon for rights to their libraries of content.

And Netflix now admits, it already does give some viewership information to major studios, a disclosure the Journal says upset some content suppliers who don’t get the same treatment. But the paper says Netflix doesn’t tell creators of Netflix original programs anything (with the one-time exception of its next-generation continuation of  “Arrested Development.”)  

Nielsen’s data will only be for the United States, and not include viewership via smartphones or tablets.  Since Netflix may be spending $5 billion on content, new and acquired, in 2016, that seems to be a significant gap in the information chain. Netflix has a lot on its plate.

In public documents, Netflix gives a little information about its thinking. It does say that last year, “our original content overall was some of our most efficient content.  Our originals cost us less money, relative to our viewing metrics, than most of our licensed content, much of which is well known and created by the top studios.”  

Not surprisingly, the original content Netflix likes best is the kind that gets a lot of viewers compared to its cost. “We look for high engagement and cost efficiency,” a Netflix FAQ explains. “For renewals, we look to renew content that performs well (based on hours generated relative to the cost) and do not renew content where the price doesn't make sense relative to the value generated.”

But, it notes, “We feel we have good breadth of content so that no specific title or set of titles is must-renew.” So, perhaps Tina Fey shouldn’t go putting her nose where it doesn’t belong.
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