A few months ago, a Netflix exec mused to IndieWire that he was actually surprised that the streaming service’s viewership data hadn’t leaked out. Plenty of Netflix insiders know exactly who’s watching what, and when.
Yet, the streaming giant has managed to keep its ratings under lock and key. Accurate data remains a mystery to even top-level Hollywood execs outside of the Netflix bubble.
That’s starting to change, as more services chip away at the facade of Netflix ratings. Parrot Analytics has made headlines recently with its proprietary “Demand Expressions” metric, which looks at a variety of factors in determining a digital program’s popularity. And according to a new study revealed exclusively to IndieWire, the Jason Bateman drama “Ozark” led the pack among all streaming shows over the past 90 days.
“Demand Expressions” measures audience demand for a title — including streaming, social media, blogging, file sharing, blogging, comments and other sources. The measurement is weighed by importance, which means a stream or download take precedence.
Meanwhile, Nielsen, the grandaddy of all ratings services, has been working on streaming viewership data for some time, and finally revealed some of that information this week.
According to Nielsen, which handed out just a few morsels of viewership info to reporters, the first episode of Marvel series “The Defenders” averaged 6.1 million viewers during the first week it was released, between August 18 and August 25. The first episode of “Fuller House” Season 3 posted 4.6 million viewers between September 22 and September 29. And the premiere episode of Season 5 of “House of Cards” also averaged 4.6 million viewers, from May 30 to June 6.
As it does every time another company claims to have cracked the Netflix ratings mystery, the service was quick to dismiss the numbers. “The data that Nielsen is reporting is not accurate, not even close, and does not reflect the viewing of these shows on Netflix,” a spokesperson said.
Netflix, of course, could be right. Past numbers, including well-publicized ratings information from the now-defunct Symphony Advanced Media service, have been considered wildly inconsistent. But until it finally releases actual data, and not just press releases on quirky user habits that ultimately don’t reveal much information, this is the closest thing we’ve got.
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and now CBS All Access remain stubbornly resistant to sharing viewership info, yet studios need that information to assess the value of their content and set license fees. Actors and creators also need that information in order to negotiate and renegotiate their deals. The business as a whole could use more information on the value of placing content on streaming services. And the media would like to know, in order to gauge audience interest. At some point, that Netflix exec will be right, and someone will intentionally or accidentally release real numbers — so it behooves those services to get out in front of it.
Nielsen has been working on its streaming ratings methodology for some time, and was originally expected to launch a new streaming ratings service months ago. But it got caught up in a few hiccups, including coding issues.
Nielsen is using its people meter boxes, the same ones that measure broadcast and cable ratings, for Netflix measurement. For streaming programming, it relies on an audio code embedded inside the shows, in order to track viewership. Because there’s such a big rush of viewership for Netflix shows on the first day of viewing, Nielsen has to make sure that studios are sharing those audio cues from the very beginning.
Nielsen’s reveal of Netflix stats also came following months of hardball negotiations with networks and studios to start buying that data. Nielsen knows the traditional Hollywood studios are hungry for those ratings, and insiders said the company has been looking to charge networks as much as four to five times more than what they now pay for broadcast and cable ratings. Companies initially signing on include Disney/ABC, NBCUniversal, A&E Networks and Warner Bros.
As for the Parrot Analytics data, the company shared the top 10 digital originals in the United States over the past 90 days, and Netflix easily dominates the roster. The sleeper hit “Ozark” actually topped the charts, while CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery” was No. 2, followed by Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” which remains popular even before the launch of Season 2. Hulu makes an appearance with Emmy winner “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but as has been discussed recently about the lack of buzz surrounding Amazon Prime’s programming, none of that service’s shows make the top 10.
Here’s the full chart:
AVERAGE DEMAND IMPRESSIONS
Star Trek: Discovery CBS All Access
Stranger Things Netflix
The Handmaid’s Tale Hulu
Orange Is The New Black Netflix
Marvel’s The Defenders Netflix
13 Reasons Why Netflix
House of Cards Netflix