Jessica Jones playing nice with some dude.
Image: Netflix

One of the more interesting parts of Netflix becoming one of the most disruptive studios in Hollywood is that, from the outside, there’s no real way to measure just how successful any of its movies or series are, because the company doesn’t release comprehensive data about what subscribers watch. From Netflix’s perspective, though, more transparency doesn’t seem to be all that much of a concern. And frankly, all things considered, the company is right not to care.

For many, Netflix’s opaqueness has been the source of frustration. Especially in light of series like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and Iron Fist being canceled at a time when fandoms often attempt to point to a series’ ratings as an argument for keeping shows going (the most recent: One Day at a Time). When it comes to figuring out the “success” of a title, all you can really do is take Netflix’s glowing press releases at face value, consider the buzz around a title within your social circle, and split the difference in hopes of coming to something like a plausible conclusion as to the truth.

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During Netflix’s recent Lab gathering (as reported by the Hollywood Reporter), CEO Reed Hastings was candid about his belief that normal people don’t really care all that much about what others are watching, and so the company’s in no rush to make that data publicly available. THR cites Hastings:

“It doesn’t matter to anyone,” Hastings argued. “Over time, we’ll probably share more than less,” he continued, though he added, “I don’t think it matters to consumers.”

There are a few reasons why Netflix isn’t enthusiastic about letting people know how its content performs.

For one, Netflix isn’t beholden to advertisers, the main reason traditional shows’ ratings are important for a network to share with certain parties. Also, while Netflix (and its rival streaming services like Amazon, Hulu, and the upcoming Disney+) plays its cards close to the chest, there’s no way of definitively saying whether any particular movie or show has been a flop or success. Regardless of whether a Netflix program’s viewership is based on people watching it in earnest or “hate-watching” as people often do, not publishing ratings allows Netflix to more or less control the narrative about how successful it is. So long as the public’s generally in the dark and speculating about Netflix’s numbers, people are talking about Netflix, which works in the company’s interest because that real estate in your mind is quite valuable.

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To Hastings’ point about ratings, though, it’s worth taking to heart what he’s saying. As much as you may be personally invested in the existence of a show on any particular streaming platform, the fact of the matter is that ultimately, the content lives and dies by the decisions made by the studios themselves, not the public. As great as petitions to save shows can be, it’s difficult to imagine the studio listening to the audience’s desires because it can always claim that the numbers simply don’t warrant it. The only real way the public could potentially send a message to Netflix, then, would be to just quit using the service (and in large numbers).

Would you stop watching if it meant there might be a bit more transparency? Probably not.

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