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Ted Sarandos Blasts Outside Attempt to Disclose Netflix Program Ratings

18 Jan, 2016 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Netflix takes great pride in proclaiming itself a pay-TV disruptor. In addition to popularizing the social media phenomenon of binge viewing and ad-free programming, the subscription streaming pioneer has long rattled the industry by not revealing ratings for original shows — or any content for that matter.

So when NBC Universal last week devoted much of its time at the Television Critics Association winter press tour disclosing what it claimed were the actual ratings for Netflix shows such as “Jessica Jones” and “Orange Is the New Black,” it was as if the top-secret recipe to Coke had been unwrapped.

NBC, using data generated by Symphony Advanced Media, a San Francisco-based a multi-platform data research company, claimed new Netflix originals “Jessica Jones” drew 4.8 million viewers, while “Master of None” and “Narcos” had 3.9 million and 3.2 million, respectively, over a 35-day period last fall, according to Alan Wurtzel, president of research and development at the network. Critically-acclaimed “Orange Is the New Black” had 644,000 viewers.

Symphony reportedly generated the data monitoring 15,000 user mobile devices tracking audio codes found in all TV programming.

Wurtzel said the Netflix ratings hardly represented a threat to the pay-TV landscape.

“Compare these programs to 'The Big Bang Theory,' 'Empire' or 'Blind Spot,' and … [streaming] isn’t replacing broadcast,” he said Jan. 13.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, who has made a habit of antagonizing TV industry (including theatrical) business norms, Jan. 17 came out swinging against the “data breach” during the SVOD service’s TCA platform.

Specifically, Sarandos characterized the data as incomplete and “remarkably inaccurate.” Netflix domestic subs collectively watched about 10 billion hours of content in the most recent quarter, or more than 100 million hours per day. Of that, about 80% of the content is consumed on the TV.

So when Nielsen in 2014 claimed it would begin monitoring SVOD (i.e. Netflix) viewership via audio signals on portable devices, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings at the time dismissed the notion, saying the mobile segment of subscribers did not accurately reflect total viewership patterns.

Sarandos went further, questioning why anyone would pay for the [Symphony] data.

“Why would NBC use their lunch slot with [the media] to talk about our ratings? Maybe it’s because it’s more fun than talking about NBC ratings,” he said.

Netflix has long claimed its ratings are defined by subscriber growth. The service will disclose that growth Jan. 19 when it reports Q4 earnings.

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