In the world of network television, shows live and die by how many people tune in to watch on a weekly basis. If a show is raking in tens of millions of viewers, their chances of getting renewed and staying on the air are much higher. That business model mostly stems from the fact that advertisers, the lifeline of network TV, want to make sure their dollars are well spent. When you take away that advertising incentive to release how many people are watching a show, however, you get a model like the one at Netflix, where ratings and viewership are extremely guarded. The true motivations of keeping that data a secret are likely for a number of reasons, but the largest one is because the company simply hasn’t been compelled to hand it over. By creating a buzz about the company’s original shows without releasing hard data, they’re more likely to grow without investor pressure to base all decisions solely on how many people watched the season premiere of House of Cards.
However, the age of top-secret viewer data might be coming to an end for the TV and movie streaming company. Luth Research, a firm based in San Diego, released a report to Variety that gives an estimate of how many viewers Netflix’s lineup of original programming attracts. Even with a sample size of just 2,500 Netflix subscribers, the information suggests the media company’s heyday of original shows is just beginning, as millions of people have already gotten hooked on more than the company’s flagship series about Frank and Claire Underwood.
House of Cards, when all three seasons are taken into account, is still the most popular show among Netflix subscribers, Variety reports. In March, the show attracted 6.4% of subscribers. Netflix reported in its April shareholder letter that the company now has 60 million viewers worldwide, meaning the series potentially attracted 3.8 million viewers in that month. However, the numbers suggest other shows are also starting to take their own spotlight.
About 10.7% of subscribers watched at least one episode of Daredevil, the new superhero drama released as part of an ongoing deal between Netflix and Marvel, in its first 11 days on the site. New comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the brainchild of Robert Carlock and Tina Fey from Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame, attracted 7.3% of subscribers. Both beat out House of Cards‘ season 3 statistics, as the show’s latest releases attracted 6.5% of subscribers over the first 30 days it was available online.
Besides the fact that finally having viewership data seems to be a breakthrough for people who are curious about the success of Netflix shows, the information also demonstrates that the company is branching out and continuing to build on the success of the first original programming. By diversifying what it does well, the company is proving that it will continue to be important in the TV landscape for years to come.
Luth Research used data from subscribers who tuned in to Netflix content from their computers, tablets, or smartphones, but does not yet track viewers who stream the service on their TVs, whether it’s on Internet-connected sets or linked to game consoles, Variety noted. True to form, Netflix itself also declined comment on the findings. In a letter to shareholders dated April 15, company executives did say the original programming is “playing out as we hoped.” Despite being overtaken by other shows, the company reported House of Cards had its biggest season launch yet. Executives also looked forward to the release of three original films and additional original television shows, including a third season of Orange is the New Black.
Based on Luth Research’s numbers alone, Netflix’s audience numbers might not compete directly with network television, at least not yet. CBS’ The Big Bang Theory attracted 14.6 million viewers the week of April 20, according to Nielsen ratings. Other top shows including The Voice, NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy attracted between 9.5 and 11.2 million viewers. We report that while also noting it’s one of the comparisons Netflix has shied away from, claiming the juxtaposition isn’t relevant since the business models are completely different.
That aside, it’s clear based on the numbers Luth Research does provide that the company isn’t content to bask in the success of one or two popular shows. Instead, Netflix continues to form partnerships with renowned writers and brands to create a lineup that threatens every viewership record set so far. If the numbers are good enough for Netflix, and they’re constantly seeking to improve upon the shows that are popular, it might not matter that no one knows the secret numbers behind the curtain.
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