Netflix has become a major player in the Hollywood award season, including garnering multiple nominations for this year’s Oscars. But how many people are actually watching the shows?
We don’t know, because Netflix won’t say.
In an industry in which TV ratings and box office stats are the lifeblood of business, the streaming entertainment titan plays by its own rules, keeping its viewer statistics out of sight and making it difficult for outsiders to measure the success of its shows.
Recently, Netflix has revealed some fuzzy performance figures for a handful of projects, among them the former Lifetime series “You,” the Spanish-language teen drama “Elite” and, most prominently, the science fiction thriller “Bird Box,” which the company said had been seen by more than 45 million accounts in its first week.
But these are the exceptions. Viewership numbers for Netflix’s hundreds of other original series and movies remain corporate secrets.
As the company continues to grow, this game of peekaboo has become increasingly irksome to other studios as well as talent agencies, some of which feel that Netflix’s lack of transparency gives it an unfair competitive advantage.
Despite pressure on Netflix to disclose more data, experts say, it has little motivation to be more open, in part because it doesn’t answer to advertisers that normally would demand such information.
“Netflix frankly doesn’t have to tell anybody anything about the viewing of any of their stuff because they don’t have to,” said Tim Hanlon, chief executive of the Chicago-based media advisory and investment firm the Vertere Group.
Netflix also faces rising costs associated with content licensed from other studios, and disclosing ratings on popular shows would likely lead to even higher licensing fees. Older favorites such as “Friends,” “The Office” and “Breaking Bad” are major draws for Netflix subscribers and continue to bring in big business. Netflix recently paid more than $100 million to Warner Bros. to retain the exclusive streaming rights to “Friends” for an additional year, more than three times what it had previously paid.
Netflix declined to comment for this story.
Companies that license shows to Netflix receive basic viewership data, but executives say the information isn’t useful.
“We get a compilation of views by season, so it’s not divided out by episode, and there’s no indication of what a view even means — like how long the duration,” said one network executive who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. “From an analysis standpoint, it’s meaningless.”
Netflix also doesn’t publicly reveal box office figures for the handful of prestige movies it releases in cinemas, among them “Roma,” which got 10 Oscar nominations, including the streamer’s first best picture nod, and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which received three. The choice not to release ticket sales was made by Netflix, not the theater owners, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.