The Nielsen company is claiming that its new ratings system can measure the size of Netflix's original programming audience. For the last several decades, TV ratings have been the standard for how TV audiences are measured. Considered, mostly by the Neilsen company, the ratings show how many people watched a certain series and what the demographics were of those who watched. Ratings can often determine which shows are renewed and which are canceled, as well as time slots and other considerations. The current U.S. president, perhaps betraying his past as a reality TV host, is particularly and vocally obsessed with TV ratings.
As the technology used for watching television has adjusted, so have the ratings; as Neilsen now measures how many viewers checked out series on DVR within days of the original broadcast. However, more recent innovations have been harder for the ratings to measure - namely, that Netflix and other streaming services keep their numbers proprietary, and Nielsen has no way of measuring them. That, however, may soon be changing.
Nielsen now believes that its measurement tools can determine Netflix viewership, as the company told NPR’s Morning Edition in an interview. Nielsen, host Eric Deggans said, can now use the same sampling techniques it has long used for broadcast and cable to measure Netflix original TV shows, and later for other services being consumed. Case in point: Brian Fuhrer, Nielsen’s senior vice president of product leadership at Nielsen, has determined that 6.1 million viewers watched the first episode of Netflix’s The Defenders in its first week.
“I really think this is a game changer for the overall TV view, and how people are looking at how video is being consumed,” Fuhrer said. The numbers allow Nielsen to show how much viewers are binge-watching, and how long viewers stick with shows that are released all at once. Nielsen also found that children’s movies, such as Moana, are among Netflix’s most popular programming. Netflix did not comment to NPR.
Sure, Netflix differs from traditional TV in one key way: there aren’t commercials, and therefore ratings matter not for impressing advertisers, but rather for driving subscriptions. It’s also worth noting that Nielsen has not released a complete list of Netflix ratings, nor do its ratings include mobile phones or other non-television devices.
However, the arrival of Nielsen ratings for Netflix is a step forward for transparency in TV ratings, as well as a window into how things are happening at a notoriously secretive company.