Anyone who follows Netflix more deeply than just subscribing to its streaming platform will know how fond it is of putting out press releases about the huge viewing figures supposedly being attracted by various of its most high-profile new shows. Entertaining though such claims can be, though, they’re not really based on any independent assessment, and the specific methodology by which claimed viewing hours are calculated is seldom if ever provided.
This is all about to change, though, following the completion of a deal just completed between Netflix and the UK’s Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB).
Founded by major players in the UK TV and advertising industry, BARB independently collates TV audience ratings, covering a broad remit of criteria including who’s watching, who they’re watching with, what they’re watching, when they’re watching, how the content being watched got to the screen, and even which screen viewers are watching on. An approach BARB calls a ‘360-degree Audience View’.
Crucially for Netflix, and likely the reason why the streaming giant has chosen to go with BARB as its first independent ‘audience currency’ partner, the UK company introduced less than a year ago a huge upgrade of its daily audience reporting service that took into account streaming services – including Subscription Video In Demand (SVOD) and Advertising-based Video On Demand (AVOD) services alongside on-demand services such as the BBC iPlayer – to a much greater degree than it had before.
This increased coverage will include an extension of BARB’s weekly reporting of the top 50 shows to include shows across SVOD service providers as well as linear channels.
Built around technology developed by leading research company Kantar, these new more expansive BARB metrics seek both to chart changing viewing habits and ‘clarify the competition for viewers’.
The latest data from BARB’s new reporting system shows that broadcasters rather than SVOD or AVOD streaming platforms still account for a comfortable majority – around two thirds, in fact – of current viewing in the UK across their linear cannel and on-demand offerings, with SVOD and AVOD services accounting for only about one-sixth of all UK viewing. In terms of minutes watched, the average daily viewing time of broadcasters’ services in September 2022 was 159 minutes, while the average for SVOD/AVOD services was 39 minutes.
These sorts of numbers might make you wonder what advantage Netflix sees in signing up BARB’s independent scrutiny. The move makes more sense, though, when you learn that from the second week of November BARB will start publicly reporting the monthly reach and viewing share for SVOD/AVOD services (as well as broadcasters) that account for more than 0.5% of total identified viewing. And looking at the preview case BARB provided in the news release it put out about Netflix signing up to its services, Netflix comfortably came out on top of the SVOD/AVOD monthly UK reach statistics, ahead of Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. In fact, this preview table showed Netflix’s monthly reach coming in only just short of Channel 5/Paramount and above major subscription satellite broadcaster Sky, despite the ongoing audience dominance of broadcasters generally.
This sort of information could prove very handy, of course, for attracting advertisers to Netflix’s upcoming advertising-based pricing tier.
Before interested readers start getting too excited about being able to track Netflix’s real audience figures every day, it’s important to stress that BARB only releases a fairly basic set of top-line figures free of charge. You have to pay a substantial subscription fee to obtain access to BARB’s much more in-depth information. But the fact is that the data will be there for industry players willing to pay for it, so Netflix won’t be able to hide anything.
Co-CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings had this to say of his company’s new arrangement with BARB: “Back in 2019, at the RTS conference in Cambridge, I welcomed the idea of Netflix audiences being measured independently. We’ve kept in touch with BARB since then and are pleased to make a commitment to its trusted measurement of how people watch television in the UK.”
BARB Chief Executive Justin Sampson, meanwhile, issued this statement: “Our audience measurement continuously adapts to accommodate the new platforms and devices that are being used by people to watch their favourite television shows. We took a big step forward last year when we started reporting audiences to streaming services. Netflix’s commitment to BARB sends a clear signal that what we’re doing is valuable to new and established players in the market.”
BARB’s reports only include UK viewing data, of course, so the Netflix data it produces from November won’t provide global confirmation or otherwise of Netflix’s doubtless ongoing viewership claims about its most popular shows. It’s nonetheless a significant and welcome step, though, towards much greater openness by one of the world’s largest content creators and providers.