The last few years have seen Netflix evolve from a convenient DVD delivery service, to a streaming platform, to America’s significant other. Netflix is the one we curl up with on snowy days and boring Wednesday nights and it knows all of our darkest secrets. You might tell your friends that you love the dark political drama of House of Cards, but Netflix knows that what you really want is an Adam Sandler movie marathon and it’s okay baby, it’s okay. Netflix might know us better than we know ourselves, but our national OTP has been holding out on us.
Netflix has been collecting tons of user data since day one, that’s why it’s so good at guessing what you’ll want to see before you’ve even thought of it, but when it comes to its own data the streaming giant plays it pretty close to the vest. Netflix doesn’t publish viewership numbers for any of its content, even its buzzy blockbuster original shows like House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. Since the company is producing content to sell subscriptions instead of ads there’s no reason for them publicly share viewer numbers. Industry experts are forced to rely on second hand information, social media data, and other figures to estimate the number of eyes that are actually on Netflix’s programming. All that changed last week when Nielsen, the organization responsible for calculating television ratings, announced that it would begin measuring viewership on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.
Netflix is the television industry’s version of Willy Wonka’s factory so this news was greeted with enthusiasm by industry pros and the media, but Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been quick to snatch back the golden ticket. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal Hastings reminded the press that Nielsen would be unable to capture data about mobile viewing on phones, tablets and other devices. Given the increasing prominence of mobile viewing Hastings asserted that Nielsen’s data would be “Not very relevant.”
While Hastings is right about the rise in mobile viewing it seems clear that some data about viewership will be more informative than none at all. Views aren’t as important to Netflix as buzz, but if the numbers don’t match up to the hype that strategy could stumble. If Netflix CEO is feeling the pressure he certainly doesn’t show it, after brushing off the Nielsen question he closed the interview by casually predicting the death of broadcast television noting that traditional TV “will probably last until 2030.”
Is Hastings just laying the groundwork for a defense for potentially unimpressive Nielsen numbers or do ratings really not matter in the streaming world? We’ll find out next month when Nielsen drops its first streaming report. Until then we’ll be here pondering what the post-TV world will look like and what role online video platforms like YouTube and Netflix will play in shaping it.