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Netflix Has Finally Released Their Super-High Viewership Numbers. But Why Now?

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Remember last January, when NBC hired a tech firm in order to figure out Netflix’s viewership numbers, because Netflix refused to release them? And remember when Netflix laughed in the face of NBC’s estimates, saying they were wildly inaccurate, but still refused to release their actual viewership numbers? At the time, Netflix insisted that they made shows with different goals in mind; some of their shows were designed for mass appeal, but others had a more narrow appeal, and that was fine by them. They claimed to care more about subscription numbers rather than viewership counts.

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Well, uh, Netflix has changed their tune on all of that. Today, for the first time ever, Netflix has put out the official ratings count for one of their shows, Orange Is the New Black. And these aren’t just Netflix’s internal estimates; Netflix brought in Nielsen to make the calculations and ensure the numbers are legit. The latest season of OITNB went up on Netflix on June 17th, and according to Variety‘s report on Netflix and Nielsen’s data, 6.7 million people watched the premiere OITNB episode between June 17th and June 19th. During that same three-day time period, 5.9 million people also watched episode two.

Compare that to cable’s most-watched show during that same week, which was the June 19th episode of Game of Thrones, “Battle of the Bastards”. HBO’s fantasy juggernaut clocked in at 10.4 million total viewers. Sure, it wasn’t a premiere episode of GoT, but it was the second-to-last episode before the finale, so it’s not like it was an under-watched episode.

That episode of GoT did get a lot more views than the premiere of OITNB, but they do seem to be in the same league, and that comparison is still pretty impressive in terms of scale. Entertainment Weekly reports that GoT‘s sixth season cost over $10 million per episode, whereas OITNB costs about $4 million per episode. When you look at it like that, OITNB is clearly a massive success.

But why would Netflix be working with Nielsen now, after all those assurances six months ago that they didn’t feel any need to release their ratings? And why release these ratings in public? I’m sure that before now, they’ve released internal ratings when making partnership deals, and that’s probably worked well for them. But working with Nielsen to release the official ratings, thereby inviting the press to make comparisons between Netflix ratings versus network TV shows, seems like an ominous business decision.

Maybe Netflix saw all the numbers for the GoT finale and thought to themselves, “We want to prove we’re in the same league as HBO.” Or maybe they’re worried that consumers have lost confidence in their brand, what with the recent price hikes. Netflix is not the only internet video streaming service on the block anymore, so maybe they just wanted to flex their muscles in public a little bit. Why’re you feeling so insecure, Netflix? Everything going okay over there?

(via Polygon)

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Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (, and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (

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