Broadcast TV Is Still Outpacing Netflix’s Top Shows by Millions of Viewers Per Episode

Measurement firm says networks remain ahead of streaming

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Hit streaming shows on Netflix and Amazon may seem to be pulling huge audiences, but they're still lagging far behind TV's top programs, according to data obtained exclusively by Adweek.

Multiplatform measurement firm Symphony Advanced Media—whose data was recently used by NBC as evidence the network was staying well ahead of Netflix—has released a new round of viewership stats showing the biggest shows in streaming still don't measure up to broadcast's top series.

Symphony's VideoPulse measurement tool looked at the average 18- to 49-year-old audience per episode within the first 35 days of broadcast, and includes DVR, on-demand and streaming data in addition to live viewing. While some of this data was shared by NBCU ratings guru Alan Wurtzel last week, the data released today offers a more complete picture of the 18-49 audience last fall per episode on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Crackle's original series.

Here's how many people watched each episode of top streaming shows over a 35-day period this past fall, according to Symphony:

  • Marvel's Jessica Jones (Netflix): 4.81 million*
  • Master of None (Netflix): 3.92 million
  • Narcos (Netflix): 3.21 million**
  • The Man in the High Castle (Amazon): 2.12 million*
  • Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix): 832,000**
  • Transparent (Amazon): 653,000***
  • Orange Is the New Black (Netflix): 644,000**
  • Hemlock Grove (Netflix): 597,000
  • Dinotrux (Netflix): 534,000**
  • Casual (Hulu, ongoing series): 491,000
  • The Hotwives of Las Vegas (Hulu, ongoing series): 336,000
  • Longmire (Netflix): 139,000
  • The Art of More (Crackle): 80,000*
  • Bojack Horseman (Netflix): 64,000**
  • Project Mc2 (Netflix): 42,000**

* These titles were released later in fall, so the measurement reflects between 31 and 35 days of viewing.

** These titles were released before Sept. 1 when Symphony's measurement began, so the data reflects viewing between Sept. 1 and Oct. 6.

*** Measurement only includes 21 days of Episode 1 (released Nov. 30), and 10 days for the other nine episodes (released on Dec. 11).

Symphony's data shows the continued resilience of Netflix's summer hits like Wet Hot American Summer and Orange Is the New Black, which outrated "new" Hulu programming, even though they premiered months earlier. Narcos premiered Aug. 28, just a few days before VideoPulse's measurement began.

When Crackle—which has been the only streaming service to share ratings—renewed The Art of More on Dec. 2, the streaming service said that the episodes had been viewed 2 million times, with "view" referring to people who started streaming an episode, and that 2 million figure referring to individual episodes, not the number of people who watched the entire 10-episode season.

One notable streaming show is missing from Symphony's streaming list: The Mindy Project, which moved from Fox to Hulu this fall. Symphony said the show was omitted due to difficulties with the "ingestion process," which was delayed until later in the fall and offered an incomplete ratings picture. The company said Mindy's omission wasn't at the request of Symphony partner NBCUniversal, which owns the show.

How Streaming Stacks Up to Broadcast

For additional insight and comparison, Symphony also provided data for the Top 10 broadcast shows during the same fall time period: 35 days following the initial episode. These figures include DVR, VOD and streaming in addition to linear viewing (far beyond what Nielsen measures) and covers original episodes that aired between Sept. 21 and Nov. 29:

  • The Big Bang Theory (CBS): 10.61 million
  • Empire (Fox): 8.54 million
  • Modern Family (ABC): 7.82 million
  • The Flash (The CW): 6.94 million
  • Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC): 6.87 million
  • Blindspot (NBC): 6.50 million
  • Quantico (ABC): 6.48 million
  • How to Get Away With Murder (ABC): 6.39 million
  • The Goldbergs (ABC): 6.26 million
  • Supergirl (CBS): 6.24 million

These numbers compare favorably with Nielsen's "most current" 18-49 season ratings, which is a combination of live-plus-seven-days for most of the season and live-plus-same-day for the most recent two weeks. (One big difference: Empire's "most current" Nielsen figure in 18-49 is 9.28 million, which could be explained in part by the midseason finale, which aired outside Symphony's measurement range.) 

This data indicates that superhero shows The Flash, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Supergirl enjoyed significant lifts due to delayed viewing and streaming. The Flash had 2.15 million viewers in the "most current" ratings and jumped 233 percent when Symphony's data was factored in.

Netflix on the Defensive

Notably,  Netflix's biggest fall show, Jessica Jones, attracted 1.4 million fewer 18-49 viewers than the No. 10 broadcast show, Supergirl. That comparison led NBCUniversal's ratings guru Alan Wurtzel to declare that Netflix doesn't yet pose a "consistent" threat to broadcasters, as the streaming service's numbers are still below the biggest broadcast shows.

On Sunday, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos dismissed Symphony's metrics as "remarkably inaccurate data," adding, "The methodology and the measurement and the data itself doesn't reflect any sense of reality of anything that we keep track of." Furthermore, said Sarandos, the 18-49 demographic that Symphony measured "is so insignificant to us that I can't even tell you how many 18- to 49-year-old members we have. … It's an advertising-driven demographic that means nothing to Netflix."

Two days later, Symphony brushed off Netflix's rebuttal, as Laura Bernstein, Symphony's svp of client solutions, reiterated to Adweek that "we have confidence in our data." Bernstein pointed to VideoPulse's broadcast and cable programming measurements, which the company's partners and clients—which include NBCUniversal, A+E Networks and Viacom—have said Symphony's numbers echo the data they receive from other ratings sources like Nielsen.

(Symphony measures ratings via automatic content recognition, or ACR, which is software embedded on a mobile app that recognizes and matches a program's audio files, as well as URLs, for streamed content. The company also sends a targeted survey to its panelists twice a week, asking which platforms they watched specific programs on, to determine whether a show like Quantico was viewed via Hulu, VOD, or DVR.)

"There's some variation—there's different methodologies to data collection—but for the most part, we're very in line with other published numbers and with what our clients would expect," Bernstein said. "So our methodology is where people would want it to be on the broadcast and cable [side], where there is a comparison, which gives us a lot of confidence in what we're seeing in the streaming originals."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.