'Jessica Jones' Ratings Revealed as NBC
Courtesy of Netflix

NBCUniversal’s head of research had a surprise for reporters Wednesday during a presentation on the challenges of measuring TV viewing: ratings estimates for a handful of Netflix series and Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle.”

Alan Wurtzel, NBCU president of research and media development, presented ratings estimates for a handful of SVOD shows in an effort to give reporters a sense of the audience that Netflix and Amazon draw. He urged reporters to put the impact of SVOD competition in “perspective” when writing about how new digital platforms are hurting the traditional TV business, broadcast networks in particular.

Wurtzel cited ratings derived from San Francisco-based tech firm Symphony, which measures TV viewing using audio content recognition technology — software loaded on to users phones that tracks viewership by capturing the soundtrack of the program. The company has a sample size of about 15,000 at present, Wurtzel said.

From September through December, the average episode of Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” averaged 4.8 million viewers in adults 18-49 during a 35-day viewing cycle, according to Wurtzel’s presentation. Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” (produced by Universal TV) grabbed 3.9 million while “Narcos” grabbed 3.2 million during the same frame. Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle,” a show that Amazon has identified as its highest-rated original series, averaged 2.1 million.

During the September-December period, Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” averaged 644,000 viewers. That reflected the fact that the show’s most recent third season launched in June. “OITNB” has been tabbed by Netflix as its most-watched original series.

Wurtzel shared the Symphony ratings estimates as part of what he called a “Netflix Reality Check.” He said the goal was not to get down the decimal point of viewership for Netflix series but to give a general sense of the size of the audience for Netflix’s buzzy originals. The streaming giant does not disclose specific viewing figures for its shows, which goes against convention in the TV biz where ratings info for most networks is widely available.

“The notion that they are replacing broadcast TV may not be quite accurate,” he said.

Symphony also tracked data regarding the percentage of viewing that Netflix subscribers spent on selected Netflix series versus linear TV options, as an effort to show how viewing spikes around the delivery of new seasons.

In the first two weeks after “OITNB’s” most recent season bowed in June, Netflix users spent 23%-25% of their TV watching time on the show. After that, the share of linear TV viewing for those viewers returned to the typical levels of 91%-97% of total viewing time. Wurtzel said Symphony data confirmed that “OITNB” ranks as Netflix’s “biggest show by far.”

The share of viewing pattern was similar for “Narcos” and “Master of None” during each show’s first week of availability on Netflix. “Narcos” had a 17% share of viewing in week one while “Master of None” grabbed 11% share of viewing, according to Symphony. The levels tapered off significantly after the first two weeks of availability.

Wurtzel said the volume and cyclical nature of Netflix viewing is important to consider amid the conventional wisdom that Netflix is grabbing market share from linear networks.

“I think we need a little bit of perspective when we talk about the impact of Netflix and SVOD (outlets),” Wurtzel said.

Wurtzel’s presentation wasn’t all about countering the Netflix effect. He ran through the network’s efforts to get a more accurate picture of viewership across multiple platforms and the limitations of the current Nielsen system. He said there was “a glimmer of hope” on the horizon with a new Nielsen service that promises to do a better job of measuring non-linear platforms.

Among the intriguing stats Wurtzel shared:

  • Nielsen at present measures 1,231 TV channels. The average TV household receives 201 channels but only watches 16 regularly. In 2008, the average household received 129 channels and watched 17 regularly. That tells him that most viewers “engage in a manageable amount of viewing.” But for programmers, “the challenge is that everybody’s menu (of favored channels) is very different.”
  • Time-shifting is the new majority. In 2008, 81% of TV viewing was done live. This season, live viewing has dropped to 51%. Another 26% of viewing is done within the first three days of a program’s debut.
  • Viewers who watch shows late in the 35-day measurement cycle tend to be younger and richer. Using NBC’s “Blindspot” as an example, Wurtzel noted that the median age for live plus 3 viewing was 52 with a median income of $74,000. In live plus 7, the median age was 46 while income was up “a tick.” Toward the end of the 35-day frame the median age was 43 and median income shot up to $91,000.
  • Digital availability has helped bring down the median age of the long-running “Law & Order: SVU,” which has a lower median age when digital viewing is factored in. The show at present has the best 18-24 demo ratings in its history.

(Pictured: “Jessica Jones”)

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