It's still 'Netflix and no ratings' -- Ted Sarandos rejects a numbers 'arms race'

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos found himself once more addressing the company's stance not to reveal its ratings.

The executive, during his presentation Sunday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, mocked NBC's recent attempt to provide insight into the performance of some Netflix series.

The ratings estimates that NBC presented Wednesday were based on numbers from technology company Symphony, which measured TV viewership among a sample group using software loaded on to users’ phones that tracks viewership by capturing the soundtrack of the programs they watch.

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Measuring from September through December, the data showed that Marvel's "Jessica Jones" averaged 4.8 million viewers among adults 18-49, the drug thriller "Narcos" had 3.2 million young adult viewers and new comedy "Master of None" had 3.9 million.

Sarandos, when asked about the presentation, said the numbers didn't "reflect any sense of reality that we keep track of."

“There’s a couple of mysteries in play for me," Sarandos told reporters. "One is why would NBC use their lunchtime [press conference] to talk about our ratings. Maybe because it’s more fun to talk [about] than NBC’s ratings."

Netflix is a subscription-based company that does not feature advertising and, as such, measuring demographics is not a key focus, according to Sarandos.

"Eighteen-49-year-old viewing is so insignificant to us," Sarandos said. "I can’t even tell you how many 18-49 members we have. We don’t track them. It’s an advertising-driven demographic that means nothing to us. I don’t know why anybody would be spending so much energy and time and given what I believe is remarkably inaccurate data.”

Sarandos stressed during his Q&A that Netflix is increasingly a global TV network -- earlier this month it launched in 130 more territories, bringing its total to 190 countries -- and cannot be appraised in the same way as  traditional TV networks. The company now boasts 70 million subscribers worldwide, with 43 million based in the U.S.

FX CEO John Landgraf on Saturday took a jab at Netflix's lack of transparency with its viewership data.

“I can understand the debate of secrecy sparked by Edward Snowden,” Landgraf said. “There’s probably some data, some information that is a national security issue, so the apparatus can keep secret. I don’t feel the same way about TV data. It’s like sports scores; it should be public. It will be at some point.” 

Sarandos maintained that withholding the ratings data was partially an effort to keep from creating undo competition and creative pressure.

"Once we give a number for one show, everything will be benchmarked off that show," he said. "We may build a show for 2 million people and another show for 30 million people... If we turn it into a weekly arms race by doing box scores of every live-plus-3 or live-plus-7, I think it's going to have the same result that it has for television, which has been remarkably negative in terms of the quality of shows."

Sarandos said attention should instead be paid to the company's subscriber growth as insight into its viewership.

“If we were spending a lot of money on shows people weren’t watching, they’d cancel,” Sarandos  said. "Unlike any of the other companies presenting here, you can cancel Netflix with one click. Try calling your cable company and getting rid of a channel you’re not watching.”

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