Nielsen Set to Measure Viewing of Shows Streaming on Netflix

While Netflix doesn’t divulge how many people are watching its shows, Nielsen is set to provide its clients with a new syndicated service that will measure viewing of shows being streamed by subscription video-on-demand services starting with Netflix.

Among the first eight to sign up for the new Nielsen Subscription Video On Demand Service are A+E Networks, Disney/ABC, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros.

Related: The Pros and Cons of the Latest Big Numbers From Netflix 

The service will provide data comparable to what Nielsen provides for linear TV, including ratings, reach, frequency and demographics.

Already Nielsen has seen significant viewing of individual Netflix shows, particularly when a new season is dropped. Nielsen has also seen the kind of “binge viewing” behavior that Netflix claims its shows generate.

Nielsen has been working on its Total Audience strategy, attempting to measure viewing of all content on all platforms and devices. “We feel Netflix is a really important part of the ecosystem, particularly as we see some of these numbers and rankers,” said Brian Fuhrer, senior VP of product leadership at Nielsen.

The numbers are significant to different players in the business.

Nielsen first started looking into Netflix viewership for the studios that produce original programming for Netflix or sell it to Netflix after it has appeared on a more traditional outlet. The studios didn’t want to be dependent on Netflix to gauge the performance of their programming and will now have third-party measurement of how popular shows on Netflix are when they sit down to negotiate renewals.

The data will also give the studios and networks better information about how selling programming to Netflix and other SVOD services affects ratings on linear networks.

Networks have also been asking how many people are watching Netflix shows, particularly on days when a new season of a series is released. Armed with that information, networks can make better decisions about whether they need to develop counter-programming strategies, Fuhrer says.

And while Netflix doesn’t run commercials, media buying agencies are interested in SVOD Content Ratings because they’re trying to figure out what happened to the viewers they need to reach as traditional ratings shrink.

Fuhrer says that Nielsen already knew that in homes that had devices capable of streaming, about 12% to 13% of total viewing time is streaming and half of that goes to Netflix. That means 6% to 7% of viewing goes to Netflix.

“The new service gives us the ability to drill down on specific programs,” he says.

For example, the week the new season of Fuller House dropped, three episodes were in the top 20 among adults 18 to 49 using a metric similar to live plus seven days.. That was made even more impressive because it was an NFL week and most of the rest of the top 20 were sports shows.

Similarly, when season 5 of House of Cards dropped, several episodes were in the top 20. “We’re seeing big numbers for The Defenders as well,” Fuhrer says.

The new data also confirms that Netflix subscribers tend to binge watch new shows. Fuhrer says that among people that watched The Defenders when it became avaialbe, the average viewer watched 4.6 episodes that first day.

“That’s a pretty significant number. That’s a big commitment. We’re seeing that binging is a real behavior,” he says.

Nielsen plans to share its data with its clients first before making them public.

Netflix has not made it easy to track viewing of its shows. It has been known to erase the codes that come with programming when it is delivered by the studio. And it does not provide Nielsen with early copies of shows so that Neislen can generate a signature for the show, which allows some Nielsen Meters to tall what show is being watched.

To implement its SVOD Content Ratings, Nielsen has come up with a proprietary technique to develop and capture the signature of Netflix shows,” Fuhrer says.

Once the signature is captured a few times and verified, it is loaded into the ratings engine in Nielsen’s national sample homes, he says.

Nielsen is able to retroactively credit viewing of shows that took place before the signature was developed and put into the ratings engine, according to Fuhrer.

Furher says Netflix has not yet registered any complaints Nielsen’s efforts to make public the data about viewing it has worked so hard to keep quiet.

“We really haven’t had direct discussions with them,” he says.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.