Netflix Casts Shadow Over TCA

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

Reed hastings netflix

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)