Netflix's Ted Sarandos Says TV Ratings Discussions Are "Negative"

Ted Sarandos - H 2014
Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

The head of content acquisition at the company speaks at an investor conference in New York

At an investor conference on Monday, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos reacted to recent reports that Nielsen Media would begin tracking viewership of its shows by slamming the industry tradition of disseminating news of ratings.

“The reason we don’t give ratings is not to frustrate the press,” said Sarandos. “It’s an irrelevant measure of success for us.”

At the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, Sarandos mentioned Nielsen's long history in the business and drew some laughs by referencing troubles with the research firm's methodology.

Given that Netflix has long touted how it uses quantitative analysis itself to make decisions on the content it purchases, Sarandos probably didn’t mean that viewership data was worthless. Instead, mentioning shows like Breaking Bad that didn't take off right away and other shows that failed because they were given poor time slots by broadcasters, he appeared to be attempting the point that ratings are sometimes treated too seriously.

"Maybe it has been necessary for the business of entertainment, but it’s been terrible for the creative side of television," he said. "I do think that the ratings discussion has been negative for television."

The news that Nielsen would begin tracking Netflix original shows like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards has been defended by some on the basis of transparency, that it will help dealmakers, for instance, understand how viewership on subscription VOD services impacts viewership on other platforms.

At the conference, Sarandos said there was no question that viewership habits were and are changing, but blamed some unnamed targets in the industry for not getting around quick enough to the idea that some viewers like to stack viewing rather than watch week-by-week. Rather than attempting to circumvent that reality, others should recognized this as a fact and work it, he believes.

"If you want to fix the economics of ad-supported television, you have to fix the product," he said.

Sarandos was also asked to outline goals for the next five years. He responded that he would like Netflix to become truly global and expand on the company's original programming with as many as 20 original series — a launch every two weeks — and more movies. In what's probably an example of how Netflix itself uses viewership data, Sarandos noted that light viewers retain Netflix subscriptions less than heavier viewers, but that ones who watch original programming tend to retain more.

Twitter: @eriqgardner