Under Pressure, Netflix Slowly Begins Giving Insight On Viewership Data

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf as Pepe, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco, and Daniela Demesa as Sofi in Roma. (Alfonso Cuaron / Netflix)
Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf as Pepe, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco, and Daniela Demesa as Sofi in Roma. (Alfonso Cuaron / Netflix)

As the race for the best picture Oscar heated up last month, the Hollywood studios knew precisely how successful each of the contenders had been at the box office, except for one: “Roma.”

The Netflix movie had run in only a handful of theaters, leaving the makers of the other best picture nominees in the dark about whether the critical acclaim of “Roma” had been matched by popular support. Netflix is famously secretive about viewership data, rarely sharing it even with the directors and stars who work with the company, let alone the public.

But Nielsen, the media tracking firm that releases traditional television ratings, was watching — and what came next may finally start to erode that wall of secrecy.

Nielsen, which began tracking Netflix in 2017 and employs a combination of audio and digital data collection, found that “Roma,” an arthouse-style movie about the life of a Mexican family, was watched by 3.2 million U.S. households in January and February, according to the data it supplied to NBC News. A million of those households watched the movie over Oscar weekend. Nielsen did not have the viewership data dating back to movie’s premiere in November, and it does not count mobile or international audiences.

Netflix, which reportedly spent upwards of $25 million promoting the movie, declined to comment on the numbers. It has previously disputed Nielsen’s tracking data.

The numbers for “Roma” are part of a growing number of glimpses into Netflix’s viewership. Looming competition in the streaming world, mounting pressure from entertainment industry players and tracking efforts from media measurement companies are coming together to push Netflix to open up.

The company has recently offered a few limited numbers around some of its offerings, including “Bird Box” and “You.”

The changes could mean the end of Netflix’s near-monopoly on streaming entertainment data, which could reduce one of the company’s key competitive advantages. Netflix has long used its secret user insights to drive decisions on how to spend the billions of dollars the company has been pouring into original programming.

Not having to share data has allowed the company to herald its critical successes while flops disappear from view. Nielsen’s growing attempts to publicly share Netflix viewer information could dissolve this mystique and level the playing field in the battle for talent and viewers at a time when Netflix still needs to grow.

Two sources familiar with Netflix, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is increasingly sharing information with talent and exploring giving out performance numbers selectively.

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SOURCE: Claire Atkinson
NBC News