For some reason, Netflix doesn’t release any information on their ratings. Likely to give them an advantage over their competitors. The idea is that if Amazon, for example, knew what shows were really killing it over at Netflix, they would use this to help them develop their own original programming. So you can’t really blame Netflix with this one. Netflix makes the argument that releasing some of the ratings would be counterproductive because some content is released to extremely niche audiences. Which suggests that those ratings would be extremely low. Netflix also suggests that this kind of data would put a lot of creative pressure on the talent. I don’t know that I buy that last argument, but I can get on board with everything else they’re saying.
Because of this secrecy, Nielsen recently began boasting a new service that could tell them (and then us eventually) what people are watching on Netflix. The drawback to this is that it’s a voluntary service on your part. You opt-in to the service that monitor’s your audio when you are watching Netflix on your TV via a set-top box. From a statistical perspective, this spells disaster. To start, as I mentioned, this is an optional service. So it’s not only going to be prone to self-selection bias, there are probably a lot of people that aren’t going to utilize the service. Perhaps the only people who are going to opt in are people who are fans of British murder mysteries (for example). Which is then going to skew the ratings for what is likely to be a popular show – like Stranger Things.
The second major issue I can see with this it doesn’t take into account shows watched via mobile devices – such as a tablet. Which is where I watch a lot of my TV lately. I suspect I am not the only one with this one. Netflix has highlighted this in a different way. They revealed that 67% of their subscribers tend to watch TV in a room that isn’t their living room. Which is likely where these boxes are going to be set up. So how can Neilsen actually be getting good stats on Netflix? The answer is they’re not. And unless Netflix is compelled to give this information out for some reason, we aren’t going to know what that is. I would like to pose the question of whether this is important for viewers? Or just to their competitors like Amazon? I like what I like. And just because everyone is watching something – doesn’t mean I will. Maybe I’m stubborn, or maybe I just don’t care to follow the crowd?
Either way, the Neilsen stats are going to potentially be good news for Netflix. Good news in that they won’t expose the truth. But they could also be bad news because it’s going to be a misrepresentation of what people are actually watching on Netflix. I always thought that the Neilsen ratings were skewed because they would need to have these boxes in a ton of homes throughout the United States and even then I don’t think it’s giving a good idea of what people are watching – or even how they are watching TV.