Disney won’t publicly share viewership numbers for its original series and movies, despite fellow streaming giants like Netflix being more transparent in the wake of industry-wide criticism.
The content and development teams overseeing Disney+ have spoken about how they’re approaching sharing metrics in internal conversations, according to multiple Disney executives. The company currently doesn’t see a reason to share metrics with the public, although creative talent who partner with Disney on Disney+ titles will receive some form of ratings.
Since Disney+ doesn’t run with ads, there’s no pressure to partner with a company like Nielsen, the foremost ratings agency, to show advertisers how well a show or movie is performing. Releasing numbers to the public would just put more focus on each individual performance, which the company doesn’t want to do at this time.
Streaming companies like Netflix have faced backlash from reporters and the public for years for not being more transparent about viewership. This includes data like how many accounts finished a TV show or a movie, versus how many simply started a title. Netflix has become slightly more forthcoming in recent months, sharing more information on social media and in earnings reports about its metrics.
Transparency is central to conversations about whether Netflix executives decide to renew a season. Netflix teams use an “efficiency metric” to internally determine whether a show is worth renewing. The ratio breaks down whether a show is likely to retain customers at risk of canceling their subscriptions, or bring in new subscribers. Stranger Things, Netflix’s most popular show to date, is likely to do both, while a cult-beloved show like The OA isn’t. Nielsen ratings are considered public interest because they help reiterate that a show is successful (The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy), or that it isn’t (Firefly, Undeclared).
Numbers don’t translate to quality, but the data helps people visualize what a “successful” show looks like. Ratings might seem like something the general public doesn’t care about, but conversations do arise when beloved shows get canceled. Tuca and Bertie is a perfect example. The animated series from BoJack Horseman artist Lisa Hanawalt only ran one season before it was canceled — a move that Hanawalt blamed on Netflix’s algorithm. The algorithm, which could affect how many people stream a show, plays into the efficiency metric and whether a show gets canceled or renewed. It all bleeds down into what’s available for subscribers to watch.
It also makes dealing with cancellations easier. If Disney starts to can shows, releasing those metrics could become a more prominent conversation. Disney has already renewed a few of its shows, like live-action Star Wars program The Mandalorian. It’s set for a second season that’s currently in development.
Investors probably want to know how many people are watching Disney’s $15-million-an-episode show, and executives might share those numbers. For now, the public and reporters will be kept in the dark.