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NBC Says Netflix Doesn't Yet Pose a 'Consistent' Threat to Broadcasters. Here's Why

Network reveals ratings data for streaming service

Netflix won't release ratings for shows like Orange Is the New Black, but NBC was happy to. Netflix/NBC

While conventional wisdom has it that broadcast TV is on the ropes thanks to Netflix and other SVOD outlets, NBC's ratings guru made a strong case for his network's continued resiliency during a "reality check" about the state of the current media environment at the Television Critic Association's winter press tour.

"The reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated," said Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBCUniversal. To make his point, Wurtzel shared data from Symphony Advanced Media, which has been tracking Netflix ratings metrics for the notoriously tight-lipped streaming service. (Symphony does that by using automatic content recognition, or ACR, software embedded on a mobile app to recognize and match a program's audio files.)

Symphony measured the average audience in the 18-to-49 demographic for each episode within 35 days of a new Netflix series premiere between September and December. During that time, Marvel's Jessica Jones averaged 4.8 million viewers in the demographic, comparable to the 18-to-49 ratings for How to Get Away with Murder and Modern Family. Master of None drew 3.9 million in the demo and Narcos was third with 3.2 million.

Amazon's Man in the High Castle, which that company said was its most-watched original series ever, had 2.1 million viewers (roughly the same demo number as Blue Bloods), while Orange Is the New Black, which debuted on Netflix in June, averaged 644,000 viewers per episode during the time period Symphony measured. (Wurtzel said Orange is Netflix's top-rated show, and most of its audience watched during the summer.)

Wurtzel said Symphony's data also revealed that most viewers of those SVOD shows return to their old viewing habits by the third week. "[By then], people are watching TV the way that God intended"—that is, via traditional, linear viewing—said Wurtzel. "The impact goes away."

That's because Netflix has "a very different business model—their business model is to make you write a check the next month," said Wurtzel. "I don't believe there's enough stuff on Netflix that is broad enough and consistent enough to affect us in a meaningful way on a consistent basis."

Wurtzel was also dismissive of the threat posed to broadcasters by YouTube viewing. "In terms of our business, YouTube is basically a sidebar," he said. "The amount of time spent on YouTube is ridiculously small." Adults ages 18 to 24 spend an average of 62 hours a month watching linear television and 12 hours viewing YouTube content, he said

While Wurtzel has long advocated for a more accurate multiplatform measurement to be able to accurately account for all viewers, he's optimistic about the potential of Nielsen's upcoming total audience measurement platform, as well as alternative cross-platform measurement options for Symphony Advanced Media, Tivo/Reality Mine (which NBCU is using to track its cross-platform measurement during the Summer Olympics in Rio) and the Rentrak/ComScore merger, which is set to close this quarter.

"If you can't measure it, you can't sell it, you can't evaluate it, you can't understand it," Wurtzel said. "We want to get paid for it and get credit for it. It's not just about the money."

Wurtzel shared a deep-dive into the 18-to-49 numbers for the Blindspot premiere. The show had a 3.11 rating in live plus same day. That number jumped to 4.96 in live plus seven. But when a full 35 days of viewing was factored in, including VOD after the third day and various OTT platforms, the rating soared to a 7. Adding in DVR after seven days, smartphone, tablet and PC viewing—i.e., things that Nielsen doesn't account for—Wurtzel estimated the 18-to-49 rating at "between 7.6 and 7.8."

Audiences are consuming more content than ever, said Wurtzel. In 2000, people watched an average of four hours and 55 minutes per day, according to Nielsen. By last year, that number rose to five hours and 43 minutes a day. A third of that consumption is produced by platforms Nielsen doesn't normally measure, according to Wurtzel.

NBC's research shows that "half of all prime-time entertainment for the four networks is time shifted," said Wurtzel. "There is this change in the profile of the audience as it gets further down the tail."

Using the Blindspot premiere, Wurtzel said the live-plus-three audience had a median age of 52 and a median income of $73,800. The audience that time shifted between the fourth and seventh days had a median age of 46 and a median income of $74,400. The audience watching beyond the eighth day had a median age of 43 and a median income of $91,100.

Delayed viewing is also bringing a younger audience to older-skewing shows like Law & Order: SVU. That show's linear median age is 56, but the linear and digital median age drops to 52. It's also now NBC's No. 2 drama among adults ages 18 to 24. 

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