Junk Netflix Reporting at Variety

This morning Todd Spangler, Variety’s New York Digital Editor, published a piece with the juicy headline, “Netflix Originals ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Watched by Fewer Than Half of Subs, Study Finds.” Two things jump out at me: Netflix does not release viewership and half of all subscribers is a whole lot of people. Oh, and also “Study Finds” feels like a big red flag.

But I’ll bite. What’ve you got, Spangler?

Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix users have ever watched one of the company’s two big originals, according to a new study from research and consulting firm Centris Marketing Science. Centris found that 44% of Netflix members have ever watched “OITNB,” while 31% said the same for “House of Cards.” Among Netflix subs, 94% have heard of “OITNB” and 89% have heard of “HoC” (while 72% of non-subscribers said they were aware of either series). For the study, Centris polled 562 U.S. households from July 17-20.

That’s a small sample and a short time period. Good on Spangler for at least publishing as much. It’s strange though, that there is no link provided to this “new study,” or even to Centris’ site.

So I put in some elbow grease and found that the “study” is actually just an infographic Centris made. Every so often I get form emails from junk marketing companies asking me to publish an infographic that the candler blog’s readers might be interested in. This Centris infographic smacks of that desperation.

Let’s dispense with this right now: the Centris numbers are meaningless. The time period is too small to tell us anything meaningful. It’s an embarrassment that Variety even published them.

What’s more annoying, though, is that Spangler doesn’t even take his bunk conceit and run it against readily available numbers from Netflix. The company puts out detailed and highly readable quarterly reports on their investor relations page, the most recent of which came out on July 21st (PDF), a date that lines up almost perfectly with the Centris “study.”

Netflix reports 36.52 million domestic streaming subscribers. Centris claims 44% of Netflix subscribers have viewed Orange is the New Black and 31% have viewed House of Cards. That would mean Orange is the New Black has been seen by over 16 million subscribers; House of Cards by over 11 million. Here’s Spangler again:

Both “HoC” and “OITNB” recently launched second seasons. By comparison, season two of “Game of Thrones” had an average gross audience of 11.6 million viewers across linear TV, DVR, on-demand and HBO Go. That would represent in the neighborhood of 41% of HBO’s total subscriber base, meaning Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” may actually be outperforming “GoT” relatively speaking.

This is a nonsense comparison. Streaming has expanded a great deal in the two years since the second season of Game of Thrones premiered. For example, Netflix only (only) had 22.02 million streaming subscribers (PDF) back then. Spangler at least admits that Orange is the New Black might actually be a hit. What I don’t get is why the Netflix subscriber numbers aren’t brought up.

Also, why is the headline and the tone of the whole article so negative? If you’re going to make the foolhardy decision to believe the Centris numbers, I don’t see how they point to anything other than great news for Netflix. 16+ million viewers, even if it’s only for part of a single episode, is astonishing.

I think I know what happened here. Centris’ silly infographic paints the viewership numbers as a bland net negative: “Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix subscribers have watched each show.” Wait a second, doesn’t that sound exactly like a sentence in Spangler’s piece? “Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix users have ever watched one of the company’s two big originals…“

Basically Variety published the opinion of a market research firm, copying the lede word for word. Boffo journalism, folks.