Netflix’s subscriber secrets: Is there a point?

If you’ve followed the rise of Netflix, you might be aware that they’re extremely coy with information about their subscribers (numbers and demographics), and even more so with their new line of original programming. It creates a lot of unanswered questions about these shows, especially with semi-hit House of Cards and bonafide cultural phenom Orange is the New Black. James Packer is the president of worldwide television and digital distribution for Lionsgate, who distribute Orange is the New Black, and he says it makes shopping the show in international markets more difficult. “Ultimately I want data to help my team internationally,” he says. “You can’t do that on ‘Orange.'”

And he has a point. Despite the rise of online streaming and On Demand services, the classic advertiser-based model for television still reigns supreme. And in global markets where Netflix is not an established brand, a complete lack of viewership information raises concerns, and it’s not as simple as “what ads go where.” Demographic information and viewership numbers are vitally important in scheduling and branding, and while content and critical praise can carry some weight (as it appears to be for Lionsgate and OITNB), without numbers for advertisers, it can only do so much.

So what’s Netflix’s goal with the secrecy around their audience data? Obviously, they’re not concerned with advertisers–Netflix neither sells ad space nor collects fees from cable/satellite providers–but there’s a difference between finding the data irrelevant and refusing to release it at all. It could be a gamble at a paradigm shift, though a large-scale shift away from the ad-based model would take years, maybe even decades to come to fruition. Or, more likely, it’s just that lack of concern on Netflix’s part. But if that’s the case, where do they cross the line from unconcerned to irresponsible? For companies like Lionsgate, who are trying to get their product out into the world as much as possible (for the sake of the art or the sake of the money, whichever helps you sleep at night), it becomes a struggle against an opponent who neither cares nor can be fought back against.

Maybe pressure from distributors and networks will eventually force Netflix to begin releasing the kind of data they want to see, but for now, it remains cloaked in mystery.

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