Twice a year the Television Critics Association press tour sees TV executives, actors, showrunners, and producers present their new programming to the press. Among those who regularly attend is FX CEO John Landgraf, who first coined the term “peak TV” and uses his regular executive sessions as what are essentially television state of the union addresses. Increasingly, his sessions has included a lot of talk about Netflix and other streaming services as they outspend and outproduce everyone. With this tour, though, he took particular aim at Netflix’s viewership claims.
In years past, Netflix has always been very protective of the viewership for its shows, often saying they don’t release viewership numbers. That started to change with the release of The Christmas Prince in late 2017. “To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?” the company said in a tweet. From there, Netflix slowly began releasing viewership numbers with very little context for what exactly counted as a viewer–a move that has irked many. “[You] is on track to be viewed by more than 40 million members in its first four weeks on Netflix,” one tweet from the streamer read, referencing the Netflix original series. Another claimed, “[Sex Education] has come out with a bang–the smart and emotional series is on pace to be watched by over 40 million accounts over its first month.” Those numbers sound massive, but the vagueness of that claim has rendered it dubious. FX CEO John Landgraf has now reaffirmed those numbers are not what they seem.
Taking the stage for his twice-annual executive session at the Television Critics Association press tour, the head of FX Networks spoke openly about his distaste for Netflix’s reporting, which he called “cherry-picked and unverified internal data.” Specifically, Landgraf took aim at Netflix’s You claims, saying they were “not remotely accurate representation of a long-form program performance.”
Why is that? Because unlike the way TV ratings are gauged, technology companies count video starts, rather than average audience. That means if someone started an episode of You but turned it off after five minutes, they count as a viewer. Beyond that, these are numbers Netflix is providing about Netflix, leaving them free from independent oversight. “I don’t like the notion that any one entity gets to decide what is true and tell you what is true,” Landgraf said.
Interestingly, even with more realistic viewership numbers, Netflix still boasts some impressive ratings. According to Nielsen–the company that measures traditional TV ratings–You was likely actually watched by an average audience of 8 million viewers, which Landgraf points out is “good, but it’s not as good as 40 million, which would make you the number one show on television.” Likewise, a show like Sex Education–which Netflix also claimed was on pace to be watched 40 million–only had around 3.1 million viewers.
That’s not to say the Nielson’s numbers are remotely exact, but they go to show that the picture Netflix paints isn’t quite accurate. The way Netflix presents their numbers is calculated, for lack of a better word.
It makes sense that they would present their viewership in the best possible light. However, as Landgraf explained, that could harm the streaming service in the long run. “One way or the other, the truth will always come out,” he said. “As it always does.”