Netflix won’t release their ratings: meet the man who has a solution

It is well known that Netflix does not release its ratings.

As a result, its competition (who also happen to be sources of Netflix content) doesn’t have the slightest clue as to how many people actually tune into Netflix original series.

Recently, however, in the true spirit of competition, NBC’s head of research, Alan Wurtzel claimed to have gotten ahold of these evasive ratings. Wurtzel enlisted the help of Symphony Advanced Media, a company that developed a system for calculating Netflix’s ratings.

Wurtzel believes he has the answers; Netflix contends otherwise.

For more on Symphony, their methodology, and being suddenly thrust into the Netflix vs. networks ratings war, Found Remote spoke with Symphony CEO, Charlie Buchwalter:

Found Remote: What does Symphony do, and how does the technology work?

Charlie Buchwalter: Symphony Advanced Media (SymphonyAM) is a data technology and research firm that measures integrated cross-media consumption. Our business is based on a couple of key foundations. The first is a patented technology that, when present on mobile devices or desktops, tracks an individual’s “day-in-the-life” cross media exposure to TV, including video, online web visitation, app usage and social. The second is a panel of mobile device and PC owners that serves as the basis of our data collection efforts. The panel count was 15,000 at the end of 2015, projected to grow to 20,000 by the end of the first quarter of 2016, and is designed to be fully representative of the US TV-household population.

FR: Before the partnership with NBC, how were media companies using Symphony?

Buchwalter: Since inception, SymphonyAM has provided insights into consumers cross media behavior. In late 2012, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) tapped SymphonyAM to demonstrate how our technology tracks cross media advertising campaigns, which were and continue to be, one of our lines of business. Other companies, who were interested in more fully understanding consumer usage of mobile devices, purchased mobile data from us to add depth and context to their own information sources, and this became another business line. During 2014, clients encouraged us to create a self-serve system that would allow them to delve into the unique TV/video data that our technology uniquely tracks (viewership beyond the industry Live+7 currency as well as insights into streaming originals including bingeing behavior), and that lead to the launch of our VideoPulse™ service last September, which is currently being used by numerous media companies.

FR: Do you believe Symphony is currently the most accurate way to measure TV consumption?

Buchwalter: Our approach to single source and passive media tracking is the most accurate way to measure cross-media and cross-platform consumption, including TV. Single source means tracking an individual, as opposed to a household or a machine. Passive means we use our behavioral technology to track what people are being exposed to, as opposed to survey-based responses.

FR: How do your 13 years at Nielsen factor into the current decisions you make with Symphony?

Buchwalter: My years at Nielsen gave me a front row seat to appreciate the dynamic changes taking place in consumers’ media behavior and understand what media companies, agencies and advertisers require from the media measurement community. I joined Symphony Advanced Media because it had a line of sight into an innovative and nimble approach to cross media, cross-platform and cross-device measurement.

FR: Explain how Symphony tracked Netflix's viewing data.

Buchwalter: To recognize any TV program or episode, whether from network or cable broadcast programming or original programming content from services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Crackle, we partner with our audio content recognition service provider which compiles audio fingerprints on video programming that allows our VideoPulse™ service to identify a particular series, episode and network.

FR: Some people refer to Symphony's technology as "tapping into your devices" or "spying", while people obviously agree beforehand to the service. What do you say to these critics?

Buchwalter: Consumers opt into joining SymphonyAM’s MediaInsiders’ panel with complete knowledge of how their information is used, the details of our privacy policies, and how they are compensated in return for allowing our application to work on their mobile devices or PCs. Before activating the app they have to accept the privacy terms and at any time during or after the registration process the consumer can opt out of the service by simply deleting the app from their mobile device or PCs.

FR: What do you think the future of TV consumption looks like?

Buchwalter: In the near term, 2016 will see select streaming originals match or possibly even exceed the reach of broadcast programming, meaning that the roles of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming original providers will grow in share, though there will be many more singles than doubles or triples. As for further into the future viewing programming when and how consumers want will become the norm. It will spread quickly beyond the younger demographics, with mobile device screens becoming more and more prevalent.

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