January 14, 2016
How Popular Netflix Shows May Actually Be
If you want to know how many people tuned into the NFL playoff games over the weekend, or the Season 5 premiere of New Girl, all it takes is a quick Internet search to get those numbers. Finding out how many people are watching Season 1 of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, however, is a rougher gig, as the streaming service has been notoriously secretive about its viewership numbers. But in a move that reads as both informative and slightly confrontational, NBC has unveiled ratings data on some of Netflix’s newest shows, and while the results aren’t concrete, they paint a telling picture.
San Francisco tech company Symphony was tasked with analyzing audio recognition data from Netflix shows for September through December of 2015. According to their results, the highly anticipated Marvel series Jessica Jones had an episode that was watched by around 4.8 million subscribers, while Aziz Ansari’s exquisite comedy Master of None earned around 3.9 million in the demo for an episode, and an episode of the Pablo Escobar drama Narcos brought in 3.2 million or so viewers. The latter actually debuted a few days before the study began, but it’s still clear that Narcos got some attention.
Now here’s the mildly bothersome part of that data accumulation. According to THR, it was done using a sample size of 15,000 subscribers (as the audio recognition technique is apparently still in the beta stages) and then the numbers were extrapolated to represent the million-strong viewership noted above. It’s certainly a good indicator of the size of the audience for those three shows, but it’s not so exact that I’d have expected NBC to take to the public stage and reveal them.
It’s also somewhat disconcerting that they would just offer up the 18-49 demographic results, since that’s only a piece of the viewing audience, and one that the advertiser-free Netflix doesn’t need to specifically target. I can’t imagine there are tons of 20 year olds watching Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda getting scrappy on Grace and Frankie. And I don’t get why only one episode was measured here, since that hardly represents a show’s actual average audience over an entire season. Okay, so it was probably a tech limitation and not a deliberately shadowy maneuver, but whatever.
In the end, though, these numbers aren’t really for me to gripe about. They’re for NBC and other networks to contemplate and look over to see just how much Netflix might be infringing on things, and how justified the streaming service’s confidence is when it quickly renews its dramas. If those numbers are representative of each show’s actual average audience, broadcast networks probably don’t need to get too worried just yet. Not when things like Friends reunion specials are possible for NBC to draw in viewers.
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