NBC Exec: Viewers Always Come Back From Binges, Netflix Not A “Consistent” Threat

There’s obviously some disruption afoot in the TV marketplace of late. Broadcast and cable networks continue to think that they represent TV. Netflix, Amazon, and an up-and-coming generation of cord-cutters seem to disagree. And yet for all money the young whippersnapper businesses seem to get from the young whippersnapper audiences, at least one member of the old guard thinks it’s all so much chaff in the wind.

Alan Wurtzel, who heads up research and media development for NBCU, is still unconcerned about his streaming competition, as Adweek explains.

There’s a big TV hoopla for a couple of weeks every January called the Television Critics Association Press Tour, usually shorthanded to the TCAs. This week, during TCA 2016, Wurtzel took the chance to haul out math to claim that Netflix is not yet any threat to the big behemoths of broadcasting. Except that his numbers may paint a much less rosy picture for the Comcast-owned network than he seems to think.

“The reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated,” Wurtzel told press at the TCAs, adding, “I don’t believe there’s enough stuff on Netflix that is broad enough and consistent enough to affect us in a meaningful way on a consistent basis.”

So what is Wurtzel basing his assessment on?

Netflix is a data-driven business. They know perfectly well exactly who many people are watching what series, when, where, and on what devices. Getting that data if you aren’t inside Netflix, though, is notoriously difficult. While approximate Nielsen numbers for broadcast and cable TV have been publicly available for years, ratings for streaming TV are much harder to come by.

Neilsen itself began collecting streaming ratings privately through audio sampling back in 2014, and a company called Luth Research claimed in 2015 that they, too, had gotten decent Netflix numbers through scraping data from a percentage of viewers using Netflix apps.

The company NBC worked with to get data, Symphony, goes with the same general audio-sampling tactic Neilsen does. Basically, someone who is participating in the sample puts an app on their phone. That phone listens to whatever it hears in the room, and can identify programming from the sound, so it can “hear” if you’re watching Game of Thrones or Modern Family or Jessica Jones.

The app can then report back not just what you’re viewing (as long as you’re not using a headset), but when. That makes it fairly easy to go through the data and identify if you’re viewing content live as it airs or after the fact, and by matching it with knowledge about what services carry which content, to tell up to a point what service you’re using.

Netflix and Amazon originals are, of course, only on Netflix and Amazon respectively, so their sources are easy to identify. According to Wurtzel, the data from Symphony showed that in its first month on Netflix, Jessica Jones averaged 4.8 million viewers in a key demographic, with Master of None drawing 3.9 million and Narcos pulling 3.2 million.

For comparison, in that same key demographic, NBC workhorse Law and Order: SVU brought in about 8 million viewers this week — but their Heroes: Reborn pulled fewer than four million. Netflix’s programming is right in the middle of the pack ratings-wise for broadcast TV programming, and higher than many successful cable shows’ ratings.

So why is Wurtzel not concerned? Because no one binges forever. (Although you certainly could if you wanted.) He told the crowd that Symphony’s data showed that viewers do indeed watch an entire season of a new show when it’s made available to stream on demand… but when it’s over, they still need new TV from somewhere. And at that point, they apparently turn back to the classics.

By the third week after a major Netflix or Amazon release, Wurtzel said, “people are watching TV the way that God intended. The impact goes away.” Putting two and two together, he concluded: “I don’t believe there’s enough stuff on Netflix that is broad enough and consistent enough to affect us in a meaningful way on a consistent basis.”

Perhaps that’s why Netflix is doubling its volume of original content in 2016?

NBC Says Netflix Doesn’t Yet Pose a ‘Consistent’ Threat to Broadcasters. Here’s Why [Adweek]