FX Boss John Landgraf Pokes Holes in Netflix "Ratings"

"One way or the other, the truth will always come out — as it always does."
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John Landgraf

John Landgraf is not being shy about his frustration with Netflix. The FX CEO on Monday morning met with reporters for his semiannual state of the union, and the streamer’s ever-increasing spend and recent candor over its long-secretive “ratings” dominated both his presentation and the ensuing Q&A.

At the top of his discussion, Landgraf went straight for the recent Netflix estimates that 40 million households were expected to watch Lifetime castoff You within its first four weeks on the streamer. Taking note of the traditional Silicon Valley measurement of video starts, not average audience, the exec said the proclamation was "not a remotely accurate representation of a longform program performance." 

Instead, based on episode consumption, Landgraf cited Nielsen data that implied the real audience for You is one-fifth of what Netflix said. “An average audience of 8 million viewers is good, but it’s not as good as 40 million,” he said, “which would make you the number one show on television.”

The numbers for Netflix original Sex Education, also estimated by the streamer to have reached 40 million, missed the mark by even more. Through two weeks, Landgraf said the true audience for the show was only 3.1 million viewers.

Of course, there are problems with both Netflix's and Nielsen's spin on things. Netflix’s announcements are simply declarations of proprietary data, with virtually no room for third-party fact-checking, while Nielsen’s estimates on streaming views are likely missing the mark as well. Nielsen cannot measure Netflix viewership on laptops or mobile, which accounts for a huge portion of the streamer’s business.

During his time onstage, Landgraf, one of the few marquee TV executives to take the stage at the winter gathering of the Television Critics Association, was asked point blank why he decided to focus on his competitor during his speech.

“I don’t begrudge them their existence,” he replied. “What I don't tend to like about Silicon Valley is how the search ecosystem is Google, the social media ecosystem is Facebook. I don’t think that ‘winner takes all’ mentality is good for the world. I don’t think it’s good for America.”

Trying to wrap up that portion of the conversation, Landgraf noted, "One way or the other, the truth will always come out — as it always does."

Like so many of his peers, Landgraf also spoke about the push for more content — an arms race promoted by Netflix and its “endless money cannons.” And while HBO and others seem to be ramping up output to keep pace, the exec said “any increased output at FX will be measured and focused.”

One very big reason why it’s hard to anticipate how FX is going to respond to the market is its current limbo status. The network and its sister production company will soon be part of The Walt Disney Co., but until the deal is done, it’s sort of business as usual.

“I don’t have more details than what has been publicly reported,” Landgraf said, praising what Disney has done with previous acquisitions Pixar, LucasFilm and Marvel. “It’s expected that the deal will soon close and FX will be part of the Disney corporation. The more I’ve gotten to know [Disney chief] Bob [Iger], the more optimistic I’ve grown about the future of FX.”