The vast majority of Netflix customers have heard about the streamer’s heavily hyped original series “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” — but a smaller number of them have actually watched either show.
Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix users have ever watched one of the company’s two big originals, according to a new study from research and consulting firm Centris Marketing Science. Centris found that 44% of Netflix members have ever watched “OITNB,” while 31% said the same for “House of Cards.” Among Netflix subs, 94% have heard of “OITNB” and 89% have heard of “HoC” (while 72% of non-subscribers said they were aware of either series). For the study, Centris polled 562 U.S. households from July 17-20.
But hold on: Just because a minority of Netflix users have watched its two most prominent shows doesn’t mean they’re flops. After all, not everyone who watches, say, CBS tunes in to “The Big Bang Theory” and some AMC viewers never watch “The Walking Dead.” Indeed, U.S. TV viewers watch only 9% of the channels available to them, according to Nielsen.
Netflix refuses to disclose viewership figures for individual shows. Asked for comment on the Centris study, a Netflix rep said that “we are quite pleased with the popularity and critical acclaim of both shows.” Both “House of Cards” and “OITNB” are contenders in this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards, with 13 and 12 nominations, respectively (with the former nommed for best drama series and the latter garnering one for best comedy series).
It’s tough to compare traditional TV to the viewership figures for “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” as measured by Centris, which said its survey has a margin of error of 4.1%. But through a certain lens, Netflix’s originals stack up fairly well against HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — the cabler’s most-popular show ever.
Both “HoC” and “OITNB” recently launched second seasons. For the sake of comparison, season two of “Game of Thrones” in 2012 had an average gross audience of 11.6 million viewers — over the course of the entire season — across linear TV, DVR, on-demand and HBO Go. That’s as close as we can get to a metric reflecting the overall number of people who watched “GoT” season two on a regular basis, as it encompasses views across all platforms, and would represent in the neighborhood of 41% of HBO’s total subscriber base. So it’s possible Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” is performing as well as “GoT,” relatively speaking, at this stage. But it’s impossible to say for certain, given the limitations of the Centris study (which asked only whether subs had ever watched the shows, as opposed to an entire season) and because Netflix doesn’t report viewing metrics and doesn’t let third parties measure its service either.
In any case, as Netflix’s originals continue into their third seasons and possibly beyond, their audiences stand to continue to grow. Note that season four of “Game of Thrones” had an average gross audience of 18.6 million viewers, factoring in all viewing.
Netflix execs love to compare their service to HBO, portraying Netflix as a next-generation Internet TV network that is unshackled from the pay-TV ecosystem. On Wednesday, Netflix CEO and founder Reed Hastings noted in a Facebook post that Netflix’s second-quarter subscriber revenue of $1.5 billion surpassed HBO’s $1.4 billion in the same period.
“They still kick our ass in profits and Emmys” — the premium cable service notched 99 Emmy nominations vs. Netflix’s 31 — “but we are making progress. HBO rocks, and we are honored to be in the same league,” Hastings wrote. HBO operating income for Q2 was $548 million, versus $130 million for Netflix; for one thing, Netflix continues to invest heavily in overseas expansion.
Hastings added, parenthetically: “yes, I loved ‘Silicon Valley’ and yes it hit a little close to home.” For the record, he didn’t say if he watched the entire season of the HBO show — or just an episode or two.