Netflix Casts Shadow Over TCA

Reed hastings netflix

The streaming network’s mysterious viewership levels are a hot topic at the summer confab

Netflix may not have presented at this summer’s Television Critics Assn. tour, but its presence was felt nonetheless.

The streaming service was a frequent subject of panels and conversations with TV executives who took issue with the buzz being generated by shows like Emmy-nominated “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” despite the absence of the hard evidence of ratings. But others took a more charitable view of the company.

Netflix had already been the target of vocal criticism from execs, including FX chief John Landgraf, during January’s TCA, before it had even streamed a single episode of original content. (He reiterated those comments this time around.)

Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos was quick to note then that a network like FX is in a different game than his company, since FX revenue is based on ad dollars, and thus on ratings. He also said he didn’t understand why pay TV nets like HBO or Showtime would release ratings, guessing perhaps internal reasons or relationships with cable operators.

SEE ALSO: Amazon vs. Netflix: Battle to Become Streaming King Heats Up

This summer’s TCA marks the first session since Netflix unveiled several original programs and entered the TV biz in a competitive way. During January’s TCA, Sarandos said with optimism to a modestly filled room, “We’re leading the next great wave of change in the medium of TV.”

Perhaps because Netflix operates on a subscription model like premium cable nets, top execs at HBO and Showtime were the most vocal on the topic.

While HBO prez Michael Lombardo does not find it frustrating that Netflix refuses to release viewer data, he does find it “curious.”

“I don’t know what to make of it,” Lombardo told the ballroom of TV critics and reporters last week at TCA. “(Ratings) is certainly one of the questions you ask when assessing whether a show worked or not. … How many people watched it? I think those are fair questions that (the press) has asked us over the years.”

SEE ALSO: TCA: HBO Execs Address Future of Series, Netflix Comparisons

Showtime president David Nevins said that, for him, ratings are a function of showmanship. “It’s meaningful when I can say ‘Ray Donovan’ is the biggest first-year show we’ve ever had,” the topper noted.

HBO CEO Richard Plepler said the emergence of another platform to compete against is nothing new for his company. “We have been engaged in competition for the whole history of our network,” Plepler explained. “First it was the broadcast networks, and then premium, and then basics, and now digital and Amazon and Netflix. So we live very comfortably amidst competition, and we think there’s plenty of room for other people to do good work.”

Fox’s Kevin Reilly also hit the ratings issue. Netflix is “speaking very loudly to an unreported mystery audience,” he maintained. “But that is my definition of heaven — I never have to look at or talk about ratings.”

SEE ALSO: Netflix Takes Page From HBO’s Prestige Playbook

Other broadcast nets offered a more welcoming approach to their discussion of Netflix, as the streaming site supplies a hefty chunk of licensing revenue for a network like the CW. Netflix also offers auds a way to play catch-up on broadcast network shows, especially serialized ones. CW prez Mark Pedowitz hopes series “The Carrie Diaries,” for example, will pick up more fans when its frosh season is released on Netflix.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said during his exec session that the Eye has generally avoided short-order serialized shows. CBS’ serialized drama “Hostages,” which bows this fall on the broadcaster, received a 15-episode order, and Moonves dubbed it a “very different kind of show.”

“ Cable has had great success with serialized drama,” he said. “And that’s been helped by the Netflixes of the world and binge-viewing. And we think that can happen with ‘Hostages.’”

Moonves later added that CBS is “nimble” as a network, and reminded journos: “We were one of the first places to do a deal with Netflix way back when, and it’s been very successful for us. We like our relationship with Netflix. … I think the world has certainly changed because of Netflix and Amazon and all the players in that space.”

Up Next for Netflix

  • “Turbo: F.A.S.T.” DreamWorks Animation (December)
  • Lilyhammer” 2nd season of Netflix’s first series (late 2013)
  • Sense8” First sci-fi show (2014)

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  1. Lucien Desar says:

    Edit error: ” will pick up more fans when its **frosh** (first) season is released on Netflix.” – you are welcome :)

  2. Plus, one more thing (sorry, if you can’t tell I’m fed up with tv): Ever try to watch an old sitcom, for example, MASH? I love the show. However, when I watch it on tv, I find it gets cut so that more ads can run it the time allotted. Or, a channel will use 40 minutes or so to show what used to run in 30. I hate watching shows that have been cut to make room for ads. It destroys the complex plotlines of shows like MASH, or, as comes to my mind, How I Met Your Mother. I don’t even watch reruns of HIMYM on tv. Why would I? I can see the episodes in full on Netflix.

  3. One day, and sooner than most advertisers might think, the timeslot ad model will die. It’s inevitable. At that point, the subscription model will reign. I look forward to this. The increased time given to ads for shows that frankly appeal only to the lowest common denominator make me dream of a day when ads themselves will need to compete for your eyes and ears by being creative, entertaining, perhaps compelling. At the moment, ads assault viewers, at least most of them. And I’m not worried about content dying when ads die. Quality content will always find an audience. Netflix gets it right. In an era of subpar shows interrupted by banal ads, it offers a wide array of content at a fairly predictable price, without the hassles of recording, fast forwarding. or enduring 6 minute or more interruptions. Networks are scared? They should be. And good riddance.

  4. I had to stop reading after the question of why HBO or Showtime would post ratings merely based on the point that they’re not based on ad revenue. For those who lack uncommon sense, ratings are important for several reasons to a premium network with the most obvious one being that people pay extra for premium content. Duh.

    • simon moreau says:

      I think you missed the point. Yes the ratings are important to HBO and Showtime internally. But all that matters to premium channels is the number of subscribers. So if Enlightened for instance is only being watched by 300,000 people….that is 300,000 loyal subscribers who are keeping that channel on their cable bill to be able to see that show. Also, HBO and Showtime tend to re-air their shows and a lot of people watch during the encores and on On Demand. So how many people watch one show one day at one particular time is not important when you are not ad-based.

    • jedi77 says:

      And premium content is based on ratings? I didn’t know that. I thought Premium meant good quality.

  5. Josiah says:

    Crap network ABC cancelled All My Children and One Life To Live in 2011. Thanks to Prospect Park, these shows are being produced for Internet release through Hulu and iTunes. OWN recently started airing both shows as well. Other than forward thinking Mr. Moonves, I think the network executives are running scared. Internet streaming is the future that is already upon us. Jump on board or become the next extinct dinosaur.

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