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What Conclusions Can We Draw From the New Netflix Viewer Ratings Data?

By Brian Byrd | Streaming | April 28, 2015 |

By Brian Byrd | Streaming | April 28, 2015 |

Netflix has steadfastly refused to release viewership figures since its first foray into the original programming game. And why should they? Advertising isn’t a concern. Their shows attract A-list talent, receive mostly positive reviews, and have inarguably helped grow a subscriber base that now exceeds 40 million.

Like every Star Trek: TNG script writer knows, though, a little data goes a long way.

Today, via Variety, Luth Research released results gleaned from 2,500-person panel of US-based Netflix subscribers. The sample size is small, and Luth doesn’t track programs streamed via Internet-connected televisions or TVs linked to streaming-media players and gaming consoles (three viewing methods which account for a substantial percentage of eyeballs). But this represents the first real attempt to quantify Netflix subscriber habits.

So, what do the numbers tell us? My detailed expert analysis says…not much.

What We Know
- Daredevil seems to be a hit, with 10.7 percent of Netflix subscribers watching at least one episode within 11 days of the show’s April 10 premiere. Those viewership numbers compare favorably to House of Cards’ third season, which 6.5 percent of subscribers checked out at least once during the first 30 days it was available.

- Bloodline — my favorite Netflix drama to date — is about as popular with subscribers as condoms are with the Duggar family (I have to practice these references in case I get assigned the TLC beat when Courtney takes maternity leave). Just 2.4 percent gave the Kyle Chandler drama a shot within 30 days of the premiere.

- On the comedy front, Kimmy Schmidt was a big draw in its premiere month. The Ellie Kemper-led sitcom actually proved more popular than House of Cards, attracting 7.3 percent of subscribers.

What We Don’t Know
- How many episodes each subscriber watched during that 30-day window. Did they watch two and quit? Or did they binge all 13 episodes in three days? Frequency matters a ton with the Netflix business model, and Variety didn’t provide this information in their piece. The trade pub must have access to more detailed data sets than what they shared since they know that all three seasons of House of Cards was the most popular series on Netflix in March, but it’s difficult to draw sweeping conclusions without seeing the larger picture.

- How many people begin shows more than 30 days after its premiere. We’re a busy people. WorldStar videos don’t watch themselves. Some of us may burn through a season in a weekend. Many more, though, space episodes out over time or start a series well after its debut. Those viewers matter, especially when it comes time to determine series renewals. Customers with shows in their queues tend to renew their subscription each month, too.

- How these figures compare to cable and broadcast ratings. We can approximate raw viewership by multiplying the total number of Netflix subscribers (40,900,000) by the percentage of subscribers who watched within the provided window. Six-point-five percent of customers tuning into at least one House of Cards episode, for instance, translates to roughly 2,658,000 people. The rest:
Daredevil: 4,376,000 (11 days)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: 2,985,700 (30 days)
Bloodline: 981,000 (30 days)

Again, these numbers are covered in Morton Salt. It’s impossible to accurately measure total viewership without accounting for networked televisions and streaming boxes like Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast. And without knowing frequency, we can’t make apples-to-apples comparisons with Netflix’s Nielsen-measured competitors.

Netflix, predictably, didn’t comment on Luth’s findings. We’ll see if the company releases additional data — including information on assumed Netflix juggernaut Orange is the New Black — in the near future. If not, we can probably just assume no one watches Lilyhammer.

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