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Netflix's Refusal to Provide Viewer Numbers Gets Worse

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Subsequent to asking How Many People Actually Watch Netflix Originals?, I have spent the past couple months talking to individuals and companies, particularly independents, who produce content and attempt to sell it to third parties.

Something I have learned makes wonder -- even more than usual -- what Netflix (NFLX) has to hide?

We know that Netflix does not publicly provide any type of ratings or viewership data for its original programming. But I was surprised to learn, at least from the folks I talked to, that Netflix refuses to provide them with viewing data also.

So if you are an independent filmmaker and you have a documentary or movie streaming on Netflix, there's a chance you will have no idea how many people consume your content on the platform. I could not confirm that this is indeed Netflix policy or that it happens 100 percent of the time, but I know it happens. And I'm confident that it does not happen in isolation.

One filmmaker I communicated with said he has contacted Netflix several times with requests for the data and received no reply. Another person familiar with the distribution of independent films told me that other companies freely share this data, but, across its business, he thinks Netflix is "a very secretive company."

I saw a copy of a statement Google (GOOG) provides that shows exactly how many views/downloads a film received by country. I also spoke to a representative for a startup that recently signed a distribution deal with Hulu. Hulu appears to pride itself on transparency and shares detailed viewership information with its content partners.

A few thoughts. I'm not sure if large companies that cut huge content deals with Netflix see viewer data. I assume they do. Same goes for the creators and stakeholders in the high profile originals. Indies tend to sign contracts with Netflix in the low five figures for the typical film, according to a person with considerable experience in the area. It's not Netflix's responsibility to pay the filmmaker directly. That's the distributor's job. And, unfortunately, some distributors do not follow through on their end of the deal, robbing creators of royalties they're due or signing them to unfavorable deals in the first place.

And you thought the Internet radio royalty dustup was bad.

Why does any of this matter?

First, it matters because it continues a common Netflix theme. The company cherry picks what it will share with investors and the public, from churn metrics (it doesn't report these) to viewership data.

Second, it matters to you if you're an independent filmmaker. You need to know how many people watch your content if you expect to secure financing to do additional work. And, in this day and age, you're no longer selling DVDs to national and local video stores across the country. That's all but dead. You're hawking digital rights. And, for better or worse, Netflix frequently enters the picture.

If you're an indie filmmaker send me an email or Tweet to me @Rocco_TheStreet. I would like to speak with more folks who have experience dealing with Netflix and other companies that license independent third-party content.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Stock quotes in this article: NFLX, GOOG 
Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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