TV Research Execs Say Netflix Ratings Transparency Is Inevitable

Marvel's Daredevil -  Season 2 -Charlie Cox- H2016
Courtesy of Patrick Harbron/Netflix

A handful of ratings and media research experts gathered at Tuesday's Hollywood Radio and TV Society breakfast. And while the growing pains of viewer fragmentation and the desire for a uniform measurement and currency were heavily lamented, Netflix was again the elephant in the room.

We know for sure that there's interest in measuring those numbers because we're doing it on behalf of the content producers," Nielsen's Eric Solomon said of the streamer's growing number of original series, none of which have any public viewership statistics. "But we have to be careful, because that can't be a syndicated metric."

Hollywood interest in Netflix's unreported numbers remains high — so high that NBC Universal research chief Alan Wurtzel recently tried to out them with TV critics, though Netflix brass swiftly called the numbers inaccurate. Wurtzel was not in attendance at the breakfast, nor was any direct reference to his controversial metrics, but there was a sense that transparency was inevitable.

"There will come a time," said consultant Preston Beckman, Twitter's "Masked Scheduler" and former Fox research exec, referring to Netflix numbers getting out there — potentially if the streamer ultimately surrenders to advertising. "If they go ad-supported," added Solomon, "they'll want to be syndicated."

Another throughline during the breakfast was the back-and-forth between Nielsen's Solomon and comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. The competitors talked about the scope of their respective measurements and panel sizes in the same manner that less complex comparisons are generally made at urinals. They did, however, agree on one thing: Actual viewership is not shrinking.

"Even with the fragmentation, the audience seems to not have declined," said Fulgoni. "If you look at total media consumptions, all of these platforms have increased the time users spend."

Digital stats, however, can be misleading. FX's Julie Piepenkotter pointed to the recent Facebook stream of Buzzfeed staffers slowly willing a watermelon to explode to an online audience of more than 800,000. That number only accounts for those who watched 2 seconds.

"If we looked at it in terms of the digital two-second view," said Piepenkotter, "the episodes of [The People v. O.J. Simpson] to date would have been 143.9 million hours viewed and 259 billion views. I feel like Carl Sagan. Billions?"

O.J.'s actual numbers are nothing to joke about. Piepenkotter also took the opportunity to note the miniseries' more sellable stat: Across all linear and non-linear platforms, the buzzy series has been averaging 12.6 million viewers. That easily makes it the No. 1 new cable show of 2016.