Whatever Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos planned to push during Sunday’s meeting with the Television Critics Association was at least slightly derailed by the press tour’s big story: the apparent outing of the streamer’s “ratings“.
With Wednesday’s loose assessment of who’s watching a handful of Netflix originals, via a methodology that’s already been brushed off by FX chief John Landgraf, NBC Universal research guru Alan Wurtzel still made headlines by citing audience projections for Jessica Jones, Master of None and Narcos. “Now we can talk about our ratings and why we don’t talk about them,” Sarandos told the press on Sunday, opening the Q&A portion of his executive session.
Sarandos must have known it wouldn’t end there. The exec expressed his surprise when it took a few minutes before any reporters pressed him on the matter.
“Given what is really remarkably inaccurate data, I hope they didn’t spend any money on it,” he said of the numbers. “There’s a couple mysteries at play for me. Why would NBC use their lunch slot to talk about our ratings? Maybe because it’s more fun than talking about NBC ratings. … The methodology doesn’t reflect any sense of reality we keep track of.”
It was a different response to a familiar question. Every Sarandos appearance at the TCA has seen the exec grilled on the streamer’s unreported audience numbers. And while he wasn’t giving away any numbers, he was happy to say that the ones shared by NBC were wrong — and of a demographic that Netflix doesn’t even track.
“I can’t even tell you how many 18-49 users we have … we don’t track them,” he said. “Those sample sets don’t give you a lot of information when people are watching thousands of shows [on Netflix] around the world. Somewhere in the world, every second of every day, someone is pressing start on a Netflix original. … There is not an apples to apples comparison to Netflix watching and any Nielsen rating.”
Sarandos noted that the specific numbers — Wurtzel had 4.8 million adults 18-49 watching Jessica Jones, followed by Master of None (3.9 million adults 18-49) and Narcos (3.2 million adults 18-49) — wouldn’t even be relevant to his business if they were true.
“The ratings themselves have no specific impact on the business,” he added. “If we were spending a lot of money on shows people weren’t watching, they will quit. People are finding value in how we’re spending our content dollars … if they’re watching today, tomorrow or seven days from now.”
Bringing up a point not often echoed during his ratings rebuttals, Sarandos also emphasized that he thought public ratings interfere with the creative process and that he didn’t want the people behind his different series to feel as though they’re in competition with one another. He also took a swipe at the current ad-supported model by noting that the quest to always be in pursuit of the biggest audience has had a negative effect on the quality of shows.
“We may build a show for 2 million people and we may build a show for 30 million,” he said, then suggesting he has series that hit both of those numbers.