Yesterday, Netflix’s new original series, Lilyhammer premiered for all subscribers to see. The release format for Lilyhammer was pretty unique; all eight episodes of the finished first season were put online at the same time, to be watched all at once or at a more leisurely pace. Because the release of the Netflix original program was so unusual, it stands to reason Netflix would want to keep the viewership numbers for the show out of the public eye.
Today, Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos sent out a memo explaining why the subscription service will not be releasing ratings for Lilyhammer. The memo begins with the best point Netflix has. Because Lilyhammer released all eight episodes yesterday, and because Netflix viewers are more likely to come across new television over time, it would be unfair to release the ratings. There’s no standard for programming like Netflix’s, no baseline for what would be considered “good” or “bad” ratings, and I completely understand Netflix’s hesitance to let out some numbers that may not wow us when compared to, say, last night’s The Voice.
We have over 23 million streaming members and they’ll have the opportunity to discover Lilyhammer not just yesterday, today or this week, but over the course of several years. Some members have loved the show so much that they’ve already watched the entire eight-episode first season; we put all the episodes up at once for that reason.
This is the great thing about Netflix: subscribers pay a monthly fee, and can watch whenever they would like. However, the second half of the memo totally refutes any argument Netflix has.
At Netflix, we are all about giving people choice in the way they enjoy TV shows and movies. They can watch one episode or all eight back-to-back. They can start in the living room on their Smart TV and end in the bedroom on their iPad. We don’t show commercials so we don’t have to deliver audience numbers to advertisers. We do have to deliver a great experience to our members.
Sarandos is right when he says Netflix does not have to deal with advertisers and Nielson ratings. He is right when he says the experience with Netflix is completely different than the cable experience, which relies on advertising and new products to entice viewers. But what irritates me about this press release, and what should probably irritate everyone, is that it fails to acknowledge that Netflix’s success largely derives from networks and cable channels that do release their numbers. It’s extremely important for everyone else to attract at least a specific number of eyeballs. In fact, these are the same eyeballs that Netflix ultimately uses to decide what to pay for programming. While it is fine that Netflix doesn’t tell us how many people watch Lilyhammer, the company shouldn’t be so eager to point out why its system is better.
You can view the full press release over at Deadline.