Streaming services stay coy on data to write their own narratives
The Future. Streaming services often hide as much viewership data as they can. They don’t want to appear too small compared to competitors or too big of a corporation to the creative community. But, as streaming becomes the de facto distribution format for most film and television, a labor fight could quickly emerge to define what “success” means.
Numbers game or game the numbers?
Despite their large ambitions and big promises to Wall Street, streamers like to keep (mostly) quiet about how content does on their platforms. Why?
- Choosing what data matters is complicated. How many minutes viewed? How many subscribers gained? Streamers have all that data but are still figuring out which data point tells the most flattering story.
- Platform size is tyranny. Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max all have different subscriber numbers. If, say, HBO Max releases its numbers on a “hit show,” it may seem poor performing in comparison to one on Netflix.
- Hits cost money. In the times before streaming, big hits — whether at the box office or in Nielsen ratings — meant bonuses and raises. With data kept under lock and key, streamers hold more leverage in contract negotiations.
- Waiting for a ref. Instead of having to determine what data is best to share, streamers seem to be waiting for someone else to do it for them. Nielsen is catching up, and Samba TV provides a consistent but incomplete number.
Netflix and count
After reaching market dominance, facing pressure for years on transparency, and having its secret performance metrics leaked, Netflix is opening its data vault a bit more.
- It recently announced that it would measure a film or show’s performance by “total hours watched” — a closer metric to Nielsen.
- It’s also changing how it measures its Top Ten list and launched a dedicated website to see unique Top Ten lists for more than ninety countries.
With every major streamer claiming to compete with Netflix and streaming in general already accounting for 25% of TV usage in the U.S., platforms may no longer be able to get away with hiding their metrics.