PASADENA, Calif. — Tensions between Netflix and traditional television networks escalated this weekend after industry executives expressed mounting frustration over Netflix’s refusal to disclose ratings.
At a Television Critics Association event, NBCUniversal introduced viewership figures Wednesday provided by an outside firm that suggested several of Netflix’s shows fall in line with broadcast and cable shows, implying that traditional television remains vibrant. On Saturday, John Landgraf, chief executive of cable network FX, picked up the theme, saying it was “ridiculous” that Netflix did not release viewership numbers.
Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, shot back Sunday, saying the numbers provided by NBC were “remarkably inaccurate” and asking why NBC would spend time and energy to “talk about our ratings.”
The pitched back-and-forth occurred as ratings are falling for broadcast and cable networks while Netflix’s offerings of original programs are growing. Sarandos said the streaming service would spend $6 billion on content this year, and original scripted programming would be part of that budget.
Television executives have been frustrated because Sarandos has at times suggested Netflix shows would fare better than what is on cable and broadcast television.
The battle over ratings began when Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal’s head of research, said Wednesday that he was confronting the “800-pound gorilla” and gave the news media what he described as a “Netflix reality check.”
Ratings, particularly among 18- to 49-year-olds, dictate how much money cable and broadcast networks make from advertisers.
Wurtzel provided data from a firm named Symphony Advanced Media, which uses audio content recognition installed on phones to recognize what is being watched and when. According to Symphony’s data, the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” was viewed by 4.8 million people within the first 35 days of its premiere in the 18- to 49-year-old bracket important to advertisers. In that demographic, Wurtzel said that, according to Symphony’s data, “Master of None” had 3.9 million viewers, “Narcos” had 3.2 million and Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” had 2.1 million viewers.
Sarandos pushed back hard on Symphony’s data.
“The methodology and the measurement and the data itself don’t reflect any sense of reality of anything that we keep track of,” Sarandos said.
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