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Week In Review: Nielsen, Netflix and The Irishman, Viacom And CBS Seal The Deal

1. Nielsen, Netflix and The Irishman 

While that sounds like the set-up to a Catskills-era joke, it’s actually about the ratings for Netflix’s new Pacino-DeNiro movie or the lack thereof.

Nielsen, which does digital ratings too, estimated that 17.1 million unique viewers watched the film in the first five days, a hefty number, but still considerably less than last year’s blockbuster, Bird Box, which Nielsen estimated was watched by nearly 26 million viewers in the same time frame. Additionally, Nielsen estimated that 18% of viewers watched the three and a half hour Irishman in its entirety on the first day.

Why It Matters

Netflix likes reporting its own numbers—it claimed that Bird Box was watched by 45 million people the first week—but Netflix doesn’t count viewers as carefully as Nielsen does.

That’s the micro reason it matters. The macro reason is that soon Flix ratings are going to matter a great deal.

There are a few big reasons for that.

The first is that it’s going to matter how many people saw each show if and when the various Flixes want to offer those shows for syndication or otherwise sell or lease the rights.

The second is that in order to get key talent—actors, writers, directors and producers—to work with them, they are either going to have to win lots of awards, show they draw in big audiences, or, ideally, both.

The last bit is especially important for movies, something the various Flixes are increasingly getting very involved with, Netflix and Amazon in particular.

Their investors want to know if the $160 million they spent on a movie like The Irishman was worth it, if they got enough eyeballs versus movie theaters, if having those sorts of movies got more people to subscribe.

(NB: Netflix claims that it knows how many people subscribed because of The Irishman, but we’re just going to call bullshit on that: few people can tell you the specific reason they subscribed to anything, and we highly doubt that any one single factor—price, content, selection—was what pushed most new subscribers over the edge–it was more than likely a combination of factors, and we’ll further go out on a limb and say that most new subscribers would be hard pressed to actually commit to a single reason they subscribed.)

All that said, the race to determine OTT VOD ratings is going to heat up as the streaming wars heat up and the key to that is to develop a mutually agreed upon set of standards, so that Nielsen isn’t measuring one thing and Netflix self-reporting another.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re one of the Flixes, work with Nielsen, work with ACR vendors, work with digital measurement companies, but stop with the self-measurement thing and get your house in order. 

Because one of your competitors is going to show up with verified third-party ratings and then you’ll really be screwed.

So get with the program and everyone else get out the popcorn. It’s going to be while before this one is settled.

2. Viacom And CBS Seal The Deal

The merger between Viacom and CBS actually went down this week, papers were signed and VCBS is real.

Why It Matters

The industry has been anticipating this merger for just about forever, so it’s not much of a surprise. 

What will be a surprise is what VCBS does with its digital properties.

Will they go the mega app route as their competitors have done, and combine CBS All Access, Showtime, Pluto, Awesomeness, Noggin and Viacom into a Disney/Peacock/Netflix/Hulu/Amazon competitor?

Or will they adopt more of a studio model, keeping the apps separate, selling the ads via a single ad team and selling programming to other Flixes while also keeping some for themselves?

No one knows, though the latter option is seeming a bit more likely given (a) they have not announced anything about a mega app yet and (b) they recently allowed Nickelodeon to sign a deal with Netflix to buy original programming from Nick, including mega hit SpongeBob SquarePants.

So there’s that, but no one really knows for sure what will happen, nor is there any guarantee that the answer will be quite so clearcut.

So there’s that too.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re VCBS, no need to rush the decision. It seems wise to enjoy your current position, so long as it remains profitable, and wait to see how the market shakes out and where the opportunities lie.

If you’re a competitor, keep your eyes open. VCBS has a very strong product and a very deep library. Nick in particular, though MTV, Showtime, CBS and Comedy Central are no slouches either. So don’t get lulled into forgetting they exist. 

You’ve been warned.