Netflix's Closely Guarded TV Ratings May Have Been Cracked By NBC

The streaming giant never shares viewership numbers.

The rise of Netflix from a DVD-mailing company to a global force in media and entertainment has been incredibly swift, with a dramatic impact on the way we enjoy TV shows and films. Binge watching is totally commonplace today, whereas 10 years ago we had to schedule our lives around shows we really wanted to watch week to week. Needless to say, Netflix's model and bag of tricks have won over TV fiends, which irritates traditional networks not only because the streaming revolution has eaten into the cable subscriber base, but also because Netflix and other streaming companies don't share viewership numbers.

One of these bitter competitors might have cracked the case, though — according to Variety, NBC has enlisted the help of Symphony, a San Francisco-based tech company that measures TV viewing using audio content recognition technology. Based on a sample size of about 15,000, the company estimates that from September through December, Jessica Jones averaged 4.8 million viewers among adults age 18-49, Narcos scored 3.2 million, and Master of None had 3.9 million. Previously, the most known about how any of Netflix's original shows performed was the company's admission that Orange is the New Black is its biggest.

Compared to the most successful shows on "traditional" networks, NBC and others don't have much to be worried about if these numbers are accurate. Not yet, anyway. While 3.9 million viewers in the key demographic for the first season of a comedy like Master of None is pretty good, these figures don't suggest that Netflix is totally seizing the market away from networks such as AMC, which boasts an apocalyptic 17 million viewers per week for The Walking Dead.

As TV ratings are a questionable indicator of a TV show's quality at best, this doesn't mean TWD is necessarily much better than any of Netflix's shows — just that it and other shows that live on traditional TV aren't struggling to get viewers. The "Netflix effect" is strong, but not so strong yet that it's causing broadcast networks to totally panic. For now, Netflix will keep bulking up its original content, offering and relying on word of mouth and critical buzz to measure the success of its shows, and the longtime TV giants will do everything in their power to match that output.

Eventually, some seismic shifts will occur that potentially alter the pay TV model forever. It just won't be tomorrow.

Cover image: Netflix US & Canada via YouTube