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Nielsen Develops Ratings System To Measure Netflix Audience


The TV ratings company Nielsen says it can now estimate how many people watch individual shows on Netflix. The streaming service already knows that, of course, but it rarely says. Now we can know. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says that could transform the TV industry.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: We talk about them all the time, but there's little public information on how many people actually watch well-known Netflix shows like "The Defenders," "Orange Is The New Black" or "House Of Cards."


DEGGANS: Netflix can see how many times a show is streamed, but it can't necessarily tell how many people are watching each stream. Now Nielsen says it can use the same households it samples to create cable and broadcast TV ratings to calculate U.S. viewership for programs on subscription-based streaming services. It's focusing initially on Netflix. Brian Fuhrer is senior vice president of product leadership at Nielsen. He says the data will provide a better idea of how people watch TV shows across platforms, from broadcast networks to cable TV and Netflix streaming.

BRIAN FUHRER: I really think this is a - a game-changer for the overall TV view and how people are looking at how video is being consumed. We're filling in a big gap.

DEGGANS: Fuhrer says, for example, a 6.1 million viewers watched the first episode of Netflix's superhero series, "The Defenders," in its first week of release. That's comparable with a mid-level network TV show like CBS's "The Amazing Race." Netflix drops all episodes of a series at once. Nielsen's data seems to confirm that leads to binge-watching. Younger subscribers averaged 4.6 episodes of viewing on the first day "The Defenders" was released. The first episodes this year of "House Of Cards" and the show "Fuller House" drew 4.6 million viewers in their first week. And some of Netflix's highest-rated programs are kids' movies, like "Mulan" and "Moana."

Netflix's secrecy has drawn criticism from some in the TV industry. Those who provide reruns of classic shows and those who create original series for the service don't know how big their viewership is, which can make valuing the shows difficult. A spokesperson for Netflix said because they're not working with Nielsen it would be premature to comment. Currently Nielsen only measures Netflix-viewing on TV screens, not mobile phones or tablets, and they're not yet publicly revealing a list ranking Netflix-original shows, though Fuhrer said that could come in the future.

FUHRER: This is information that no one had previously seen, really opening - you know, shining a light on - on something that was not well-known previously.

DEGGANS: Fuhrer hopes their information will eventually give the TV industry a better idea of how streaming services are changing how we all watch television. Eric Deggans, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.