Back in 2019, WarnerMedia struck a deal for its upcoming HBO Max streaming platform that secured exclusive domestic streaming rights to The Big Bang Theory in five years. The deal, which has billions of dollars in revenue, also includes an extension of an existing distribution agreement with TBS, in which the comedy will continue to air on the WarnerMedia-owned network through 2028.
While the partnership aspect of the deal allows creators, profit participants, agents, and even industry observers to gauge just how large the TBS audience is, the number of people watching the show show on HBO Max remains a mystery.
That’s because distributed watch numbers are, as always, available through third-party measurement services, while streaming numbers remain locked and locked. Platforms like HBO Max, Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon’s Prime Video, Hulu, and Paramount+ continue to keep a tight grip on their data, and nearly a decade after the streaming era, a lack of transparency is plaguing publishers. It’s nearly impossible for transactions, and even for viewers, to define what’s hit and what’s bomb. Unlike traditional box office and ratings numbers, streaming data is behind a shady wall, with little chance of a reliable indicator showing up early.
“It’s the curtain,” The Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg told CHEAP in August when his movie premieres on the carpet Annette. “They keep all those numbers and all the data behind it. I have ended the end of this bygone era, which is network television. We’ve got 20 million viewers, revenue, commercial money, you see it, you see viewers, you see Nielsens,” Helberg continued. “It all changed overnight. That’s probably intentionally a bit abstract at the moment, and it’s worth caring about. I want everyone to be fairly compensated. That’s the key – you want to be fair and you don’t want to harden any of the creators.”
Under current practices, streaming platforms collect heaps of data about their users – whether certain titles drive subscriptions, how long people watch a show, or not. or movies, how many people finished watching when they started, and the cost per user (the ratio of a show’s cost to the size of its audience, among other things).
All of those metrics are kept in-house, and in most cases the streamers don’t even share basic viewing data publicly. There is no industry-wide currency for viewership data on SVOD platforms in the way that Nielsen ratings have served the traditional TV business for decades or measured box office figures. measure the performance of the features.
Instead, advertisers make skewed claims like, “Through Ted Lasso Season two launched over the weekend, Apple TV+ expanded its new viewership by a record 50% from last week. … The second season of Ted Lasso increased viewership by 6 times compared to season one,” reads an Apple TV+ press release about the second season of Emmy-winning comedy. That release did not include any underlying metrics to compare a 50% weekly gain or a sixfold increase in Ted Lasso – like algebra there’s no way to solve for X – and is typical of direct comments from most streamers.
In December 2018, Netflix tweeted, “45,037,125 Netflix accounts watched Bird box,” adding that Sandra Bullock’s starring role marked the best first seven-day screening for a Netflix series to date. At the time, “watched” meant 70 percent of a series (or 70 percent of an episode of a series). There is no way to verify the data, the claim is simply spinning.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar defended the lack of transparency, at least in the early days of the streaming era. He estimates a rival like Netflix boasts about 20 million more subscribers than HBO Max in the US because of its status as an early entrant in the field. Thus, an HBO Max hit can have the same number of views as a mid-tier Netflix artist.
“The benefit of being a direct consumer is that we get a huge amount of data,” says Kilar CHEAP. “You don’t just see the numbers they’re looking at, you see how they view it. In what order do they view everything? How much do they watch? How much do they complete? How do they respond to different prompts to help us get better at helping them find something they love? I wouldn’t expect us or other players to come up with numbers just because it’s really hard for people to understand. So we labor on it. We know exactly how well these programs are doing.”
Netflix’s recent two-minute “views” metric was omitted, while providing little insight into whether subscribers were actually stuck with a show or movie, much less. allow comparisons between titles on the largest streaming store. The company said in its third-quarter earnings report that in the future it will report total hours watched for its series and movies, which will provide a better picture of the scope their reach – and is more in line with the streaming charts Nielsen has released over the past 14 months, showing the total number of minutes watched for a series or movie per week.
The Nielsen ratings aren’t perfect either. While it collects data across all streamers, just Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and as of mid-October, Apple TV+ has agreed to feature in the weekly chart.
A Bloomberg report in October provided the first public accounting of some key Netflix internal data, focusing on the South Korean hit’s outsized performance. Squid fishing game. The company uses metrics like completion rate as well as “effectiveness” (audience size versus cost) and “adjusted view rate,” which measures how valuable it is to the company. for any viewer of a given movie. People who use the service less often or are new subscribers are considered more valuable than regular enthusiasts. Providing a glimpse, internal documents leaked to Bloomberg also show that Netflix paid $24.1 million for Dave Chappelle’s controversial special. Closer. Especially his former, Sticks and stones, valued at $23.6 million but returned an “impact value” of $19.4 million.
CHEAP sent questions to four other major streaming stores — Apple TV+, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon — asking what and how much data they share with producers, actors, and streaming talent. other in their projects and whether the common currency for SVOD matters. Apple TV+ and Hulu declined to comment, and the other two did not respond at press time.
As the share of streaming continues to grow – it already accounts for more than a quarter of total TV use in the US and regularly surpasses broadcast TV, according to Nielsen estimates – the lack of clarity It’s clear about the likely number of people watching movies and TV series online. strain on streamers’ relationship with producers and talent and their reps.
“Over a period of time, streamers will have to disclose more data to people creating shows on their platforms,” said UTA co-chair Jay Sures. “Whether it’s next week, next month, next year or sometimes right after that, it’s inevitable. Ultimately, there will be a new technology that can provide stakeholders with accurate data.”
Meanwhile, talent attorney Joel McKuin, who represents Kristen Stewart and host Liz Meriwether, said that “we knew the show was hot when we saw it,” even without the data. . “I don’t know how important it is to know the exact number. When you do the research and bring them the proof, they always say, ‘Oh, we have something else better.’ They don’t seem to be upfront with you even when you’re in line,” he said. “It was a bit of a dance. But it’s always been, even pre-streaming. They will find a way to devalue something. So we are used to not knowing. I have become more optimistic about it. “
Warner Bros. President and CEO Ann Sarnoff argued that the new streaming-dominant landscape has made it difficult to come up with numbers that match previous ratings or box office data due to the lack of data. complexity of the information and the subjectivity of its value to streamers. For example, which metric is the most important? Switching subscriptions? Engagement? Or something completely different?
“[With] TV and how it’s used to report, how you monetize a show is how many people watched it because advertisers were buying it,” Sarnoff said. She explains that as viewing options expanded beyond real-time linear television, advertisers decided viewership over time was valuable, and metrics changed in response.
“That [was] Sarnoff continued. “It’s not just your initial opinion. It’s that new lady’s behavior to the door and what else they watch, and do you keep them? And, with regards to motion pictures, opening weekend box office returns are used to provide a reliable indicator of final performance. “That’s no longer true because of COVID, and we don’t. know how it’s going to come back,” she said. data is suitable for the digital world because it’s not an instant response from advertisers. It’s a much larger ecosystem and consumer behavior lasts longer.”
Ultimately, Kilar predicts that the two conditions will lead to more transparency. First, third-party measurement tools like Nielsen will become more accurate with their streaming numbers. And second, he expects that the growing streaming giants will catch up to Netflix. With a similar subscriber base, comparisons with competitors are more relevant.
“There’s going to be a short list of people to scale and then I think you can probably see that a little bit more clearly because we all know what we’re dealing with, and you can build build businesses, frameworks and other things on top of that,” said Kilar. “But, now, things are changing a lot. And whether you’re talking about Peacock or Paramount+ or Disney+ or Hulu, it’s not the same platform. So that’s part of the reason why you see the ‘less than’ type [when it comes to sharing data]. If I were in your position, I’d like it down to one simple thing – and you get an email on Saturday morning and, boom, it’s all done. “
Chris Gardner contributed to this report.
This story first appeared in the November 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.