So Who Is Watching Netflix?

P.J. Bednarski is on vacation. This is a blog from July.

Every year at the Television Critics Association press gang conference, some producer or star with a new project on Netflix will exclaim that nobody over there ever talks ratings. The creative process, in this telling, is just an ever blooming, never-bothered flower. And these stars find it so refreshing!

“We don’t have any actual numbers,” Tiny Fey told TCAers last summer, exclaiming over her total non-knowledge of viewership for “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” “I feel a lot of people are watching the show. Let’s go with that,” she said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Maybe that’s a little bit true, but I have never quite swallowed the idea that Fey or Kevin Spacey just agree to some licensing fee for additional episodes of their Netflix series without knowing who’s watching.

Particularly for Spacey and “House Of Cards,” those figures would be especially relevant. “House of Cards” verily put the Netflix on the map with what is euphemistically called the “creative community” and the viewers who follow that kind of stuff.



Netflix said audience size meant nothing to them; subscribers did. It would seem to follow that people would not continue subscribing if the programming failed. But that rating and share stuff was strictly old-school TV head-counting.

So it was news recently when Nielsen had put out data on viewership for some Netflix, Hulu, Amazon other streaming service programs. It was not a complete data dump. According to published accounts, Nielsen only gave data for three shows: “Orange Is the New Black” and the streaming package of “Better Call Saul” on Netflix, and the very expensive package of “Seinfeld” reruns on Hulu.

A lot more wasn't forthcoming.

The fourth season premiere episode of “Orange” that premiered in June was seen by 6.7 million people, a substantial showing that would put it up there with best-viewed programming on cable.

“Seinfeld” reruns reached over 700,000 viewers in the first five days after they were available, which doesn’t sound so stellar except that “Seinfeld” reruns have been seen to death since the show ended on NBC in May of 1998.

And the WSJ points out that the viewer composition for “Better Call Saul” in its rerun resurrection on Netflix was far younger than when it telecast originally on AMC. Nielsen says 44% of the audience were millennials, compared to just 24% when it showed on TV.

That would seem to be an awesome selling point for Netflix, if Netflix sold advertising. It doesn’t, though. That is is one of the reasons Netflix claims it doesn’t report viewership or demographics.

I wish we knew more, even if it’s just out of curiosity. But Nielsen only released a few drops of info. These ratings were compiled only TV studios that wanted it; Nielsen uses audio fingerprinting in homes where it has a meter to come up with its figures.

It is amazing to me that investors, and the studios, don’t press for better data. Somehow, investors learned that daily newspaper readers have now become too old to be as valuable to all advertisers. It wasn’t just declining circulation that led to the decline of the value of papers.

That and other things led to the decline in the value of papers. Likewise, the evening newscasts on network TV can only get advertising skewed to old viewers because Nielsen data have made it emphatically clear the audience is aged, aging or possibly dead.

Six months ago, NBC blabbed some data it collected on SVODs that, in NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel’s analysis suggested the bleed of viewers wasn’t so big. NBC's number, from Symphony Advanced Media of 15,000 viewers over 35 revealed that, for example, “Jessica Jones” on Netflix attracted 4.8 million viewers over that time period, and Aziz Ansari’s excellent “Master of None” got 3.9 million. “Narcos” found an audience of 3.1 million.

Wurtzel’s point is that streaming hits start big, with a swell of viewers and bingers, and then settle into relative nothingness. There’s probably truth and spin in that report. The fact remains that while Neflix is leading a historic, revolutionary out-migration of TV viewers, it appears that only a very small handful still know what’s really going on.

ON FOURTH THOUGHT: I grew up at a time some people put American flag decals on the back of their Fords and beat up kids who sewed American flag patches on their ripped blue jeans. That was just damn unpatriotic. We now live in a time in which  America is a temporary brand name for a beer, and the man who pledges to make America great again also encourages his supporters to beat up/shut up those who disagree with him.

Read the Declaration of Independence sometime in the next few days. Then, as they say, pass it on.






1 comment about "So Who Is Watching Netflix?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 20, 2016 at 1:36 p.m.

    Someone has to pay someone to satisfy your curiosity. No one collects the information for free.

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