Netflix hides their viewing numbers, but Nielsen uses audio recognition software for a clue

John Koblin, New York Times:

In the five years since Netflix started streaming original series like the Emmy-winning “House of Cards” and “Master of None,” the shows have had a question hanging over them: How many people are watching?

Outside of Netflix, nobody knows the answer.

But Nielsen (the people who, for decades, have been crunching data to tell us who is watching what) has worked out a scheme to tell us:

Nielsen announced the initiative on Wednesday morning, but it has been collecting Netflix viewership data over the last two months in a kind of test run.

The company said it was able to determine how many viewers were streaming Netflix content through audio recognition software in the 44,000 Nielsen-rated homes across the United States.

Yes. Audio recognition software. They are eavesdropping on Nielsen households, obviously with permission, and parsing exactly who is watching Netflix, and exactly when and for how long.

This is fascinating to me, but it also made me wonder about Amazon and Google. With the Amazon Echo and Google Home in more and more homes, this kind of data would be easy enough to gather. With permission, of course.



  • Wayner83

    I for one would be willing to let me echo in the living room listen at all times to collect this data.

    • Wayner83

      Maybe for a reduced Prime membership, or some other reward. Even $1-$5 a month would be worth it to me.

      • Mo

        As long as you’re getting something back for the intrusion and have the choice to opt in, that makes sense to me.

  • Kip Beatty

    Neilson is useless today. How many people watch Netflix (or other forms of streaming) in the traditional manner anymore? By that I mean sitting around in a living room with the show playing audibly?

    Netflix is used ALL the time in our house, but more often than not it’s consumed via iPad or laptop personally. We more or less reserve the big TV for sports or for movies.

  • Brandon Pamplin

    Come on, Dave. “Nielsen”. It’s in the article!!

    • Dave Mark

      Thanks for pointing this out. Fixed.

      • Brandon Pamplin

        Still incorrect but closer :). It’s -en not -on.

  • Mo

    Neilsen is the company which, just a few years ago, was still reassuring traditional tv networks that their decades-old business model was still strong, viable, and safe. If they haven’t changed that tune, they’re still the Rob Enderle of ratings services.

  • The key would be to make sure Netflix was only tapped into the audio out, and had no microphone to hear what you’re doing.