'House of Cards' Ratings Mystery: The Guessing Game of Who's Watching Netflix Originals

"House of Cards"

The return of the streaming series brings back speculation about who's watching -- and plenty of third parties have ideas about how the drama is performing.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

No ratings? No problem! Netflix's stubborn refusal to reveal audience numbers has created a cottage industry of services claiming to gauge how the streamer's original series are performing with its 31.7 million customers.

In the month leading up to the Feb. 14 release of season two of House of Cards, press releases from measurement firms touted spikes in online inquiries, Twitter mentions and Yahoo searches (beating even Game of Thrones). Broadband technology firm Procera Networks claimed Feb. 15 that House of Cards already was outperforming the first season. Citing broadband usage data from an unidentified cable provider during a six- to eight-hour period, Procera research declared that 15 percent of that provider's Netflix subscribers watched the first episode, up from only 2 percent of subscribers watching the first season.

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Not to be outdone, cultural pollsters at CivicScience have assigned a ballpark tally to the season's eventual audience. Of 10,282 individuals contacted online, 7 percent of responders said they were "very likely" to watch the new season. If the percentage holds across the estimated 192 million adults in the U.S. who use the Internet, House of Cards would attract as many as 13.4 million viewers -- a 3.8 million improvement from the number the poll projected last season. Netflix won't comment on viewership, of course, and chief content officer Ted Sarandos seems to be having fun with the semi-informed speculation.

"It's irrelevant to us; we don't sell advertising," he said in January, while simultaneously hinting his shows top much traditional TV fare.