Where there is smoke, there is not always fire, as there will sometimes be someone with a smoke machine there to incite a hubbub. Such was recently the case when NBC took the stage at this year’s TCA press event and tried to shine a light on the dark void that is Netflix’s ratings achievements by claiming it had accurate data on how the streaming service’s newest shows were doing with viewers. But according to Netflix big bossman Ted Sarandos, NBC’s numbers were mostly baloney.
Sarandos, who has been a target for other network CEOs in the past year, didn’t just lightly brush off talk about NBC’s claims, and he chose to lay into them for their research techniques.
There's a couple of mysteries in play for me. One is why would NBC use their lunchtime [panel] to talk about our ratings. Maybe because it's more fun than talking about NBC's ratings. The second is, the whole methodology and the measurement and the data itself doesn't reflect any sense of reality of anything that we keep track of. That could be because 18-to-49-year-old viewing is so insignificant to us. I can't even tell you how many 18-to-49 users we have. We don't track them. It's an advertising-driven demographic that means nothing to us. I don't know why anybody would be spending so much energy and time and given what I believe is remarkably inaccurate data.
We also had some criticisms for NBC’s results, specifically involving how limiting the ratings window to just the 18-49 demographic is hardly an accurate representation of Netflix’s entire viewing audience, especially when they’re releasing things like Grace and Frankie and Care Bears & Cousins that skew outside of the key demo range. Not that those shows were part of NBC’s analysis.
NBC chose to focus on Jessica Jones, Master of None and Narcos, and the network claimed that each show had an audience that averaged out to 4.8 million, 3.9 million and 3.2 million, respectively. Since those numbers wouldn’t be all that huge for a primetime broadcast network, NBC played like it had nothing to worry about. But we all know that preliminary evidence isn’t always indicative of a final result, so Sarandos probably has a much better idea of how popular each of those shows has been since they began streaming.
Ratings aren’t exactly Sarandos’ biggest concern anyway. According to TV Guide, he said that ratings “have no specific impact on the business,” and considering the service will drop over $5 billion on original programming in 2016, he’d probably be the person who should worry about such things. Netflix will often deliver series renewals either soon after a season has debuted, or before it even starts, so up-to-the-minute numbers obviously haven’t bothered him for years.
So the next time a network wants to knock away some of the mystery surrounding Netflix’s ratings data – and we’re fully expecting FX to play that card soon enough – then it probably helps if those numbers are as concrete and all-encompassing as possible.