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FX Boss Shreds Netflix's Viewership Numbers: They're 'Not Telling You the Whole Story'

Don't trust the service's self-reported numbers

Kaitlin Thomas

FX CEO John Landgraf is calling out Netflix's viewership numbers.

During his semi-annual presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour Monday, Landgraf said the streaming service's recent estimate that 40 million households were expected to watch the former Lifetime series YOU in its first four weeks on Netflix was "not a remotely accurate representation of a long-form program's performance."

As Landgraf points out, Netflix is not telling viewers the entire story "because the numbers they issued do not follow the universally understood television metric ... [of] average audience." Netflix, like many Silicon Valley companies, uses video streams, or perhaps video starts, to measure viewership, "which inflates their perceived usage."

He also noted that the traditional methodology for ratings measures not just how many people watched a particular program, but also how often and for how long. "Anyone who read Netflix's statement about YOU would likely assume they were giving an average audience number because that is how scripted television has always been measured."

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When pressed by reporters, the FX leader went on to say that he strongly believes "it's just not a good thing for society when one entity or one person gets to unilaterally make the rules or pronounce the truth," and that is why he is highlighting the differences between Netflix's self-reported numbers and the traditional ratings system used by networks like FX that makes for a more apples-to-apples approach to scripted storytelling comparisons.

When asked about Netflix's extensive library and whether he thinks the streaming service can sustain its current level of productivity in the long run, Landgraf said he thinks that Netflix is "going to be part of the ecosystem for longer than we can count," but that traditional television networks also sustain their respective shows over long periods of time, while Netflix gets a massive amount of usage very, very rapidly, but that usage also tails off just as quickly.

"It's just heavily concentrated in the first two weeks that they drop a piece of content, which is why, I think, they're dropping so many pieces of content," he said. "They kind of have to keep putting new content on there continuously. It's unknown yet what the long-tail value of that content will be."

Elizabeth Lail, Penn Badgley; YOU