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TV producers can now see how many people are watching Netflix shows

Netflix viewership is no longer a black box.

'Marvel's The Defenders' New York Premiere - After Party
About 6.1 million people watched the first episode of Netflix’s “The Defenders.” The cast of the Marvel superhero series poses at the after party for its New York premiere.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

For the first time TV producers will be able to see how many people are watching almost any Netflix show — including rival programming.

Netflix doesn’t provide ratings information, which has been a point of contention for Hollywood creators who typically rely on that data to make sure they’re getting a fair deal for their work.

The ratings are being made available from TV measurement firm Nielsen, which is now selling a wider array of Netflix’s audience data to more people. Nielsen had for the past year provided Netflix ratings to TV producers but only for their own shows — not on anyone else’s content.

The latest move, however, should provide a better window on how shows are performing on Netflix relative to other programming on the streaming service. It also further pits Nielsen against Netflix, which has long kept its viewership data private.

To get around Netflix’s black box, Nielsen is using proprietary technology to capture audio data on what people are watching and then assigning metadata, like the name of the show and the episode. (Radio measurement firms have used a version of this technique for some time.)

Netflix isn’t buying it. "The data that Nielsen is reporting is not accurate, not even close, and does not reflect the viewing of these shows on Netflix," Netflix said in a press statement.

Nielsen is providing the ratings to paying subscribers, typically Hollywood studios, TV networks and producers.

Netflix has 51 million paying U.S. subscribers — more than half of the number of households that subscribe to traditional pay-TV. Homes that have streaming capabilities spend about 12 percent of total TV time viewing streaming programming, and about half that is watching Netflix, according to Nielsen.

The ratings provider offered some details on a few of Netflix’s original shows. Netflix’s “The Defenders,” “Fuller House” and “House of Cards” have comparable viewership numbers to top shows on cable and syndicated network TV, according to Nielsen.

“The Defenders," a Netflix original based on Marvel superhero characters, averaged 6.1 million viewers the week its first episode premiered in August, according to data Nielsen provided to Recode on three Netflix originals.

That’s slightly less than the average viewership that CBS’s “Big Bang Theory” got in syndication, about 7.4 million viewers the week of Sept. 25. People who watched “The Defenders” premiere were also prone to binge watch it, with people consuming 4.6 episodes on average that day alone.

“Fuller House,” which had its season premiere in September, and “House of Cards,” which had its season premiere in May, had about 4.6 million viewers for their season premieres, about the same as the MLB Wildcard game between the the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks on Oct. 4.

“Fuller House” viewers averaged 4.4 episodes on the first day, and “House of Cards” viewers watched 3.2.

For context, the most-viewed primetime broadcast TV last week was Sunday Night Football, with 16.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

Nielsen does not yet report on other over the top services like Amazon and Hulu.

Update: This post has been updated with a response from Netflix.

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