Netflix is closer to getting into the numbers game than it’s ever been.
Scott Stuber, the head of original films at Netflix, says the behemoth streaming company — which has famously kept its viewership and box office data hidden from public display — is working on a comprehensive system of making audience metrics for its films more transparent.
While in a conversation with Variety editor-in-chief Claudia Eller at Variety‘s Innovate Summit presented by PWC in Los Angeles on Thursday, Stuber explained that Netflix is “building towards” releasing more viewership data.
“You’ll see more numbers from us, more transparency, more articulation of what’s working and not,” Stuber says. “Because we recognize it’s important, sometimes to the creative community. It’s important to the press. It’s important to everything. So we were definitely headed in that direction as a company.”
Other Netflix executives — including content chief Ted Sarandos and CEO Reed Hastings — have also said this year that the company is aiming for more transparency with its audience. But on Thursday, Stuber spoke with more detail about the nature of Netflix’s thinking regarding the specific challenges it faces in this arena.
Stuber stresses that since Netflix’s original film operation is still very much in its infancy, the company is working through how best to deliver audience data in a precise and thorough way. He notes that Netflix has been releasing top 10 lists for its U.K. and Mexico markets, and has been releasing select numbers when some films, like “Bird Box” and “Murder Mystery,” hit certain milestones.
But the company’s strategy to release some movies theatrically before they debut on streaming, he says, presents a different kind of hurdle.
In a hypothetical scenario, he says, what if Netflix releases a movie that is projected to open at $15 million, but only opens to $9 million?
“If that asset is perceived as a failure and then four weeks later or five weeks later I put it into an ecosystem where 50 million people watch it, it’s a giant hit for me,” he says. “But now my consumer has been told by you [in the press] that is a failure when that’s not the full business story.”
“We’re not hiding anything,” he adds. “I just want it to be articulated correctly to protect the filmmaker and protect the movie because [box office is] not the whole business for us.”
In a follow-up interview with Variety after his panel at the summit, Stuber says the goal is to be able to release audience data with enough detail to provide the entertainment media proper context for their meaning.
“I just need us to get good at it, so we can be precise,” he says. “Consistency is what you guys want.”
There are, he says, some internal metrics that are unique to streaming platforms that don’t translate to traditional media.
“Like, I know how many people signed up to watch ‘The Irishman,'” he says.
But ultimately, he says, the math is very similar to the TV and film business. “How much did it cost? Did enough people watch it?” he says. “If I make something for $40 million, then X amount of accounts have to watch it. So they better watch.”
And at some point, Netflix will be more comfortable sharing what the “X” stands for.