'House of Cards' Viewing Is Huge, but Netflix Won't Tell You or Kevin Spacey How Huge

Most-Viewed Series in Any Netflix Market

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Netflix's new exclusive political drama series "House of Cards," which stars Kevin Spacey, is the streaming video's service most-viewed series in all its market right now in terms of audience and hours of viewing, according to Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. But if you want to know exactly how many people have tuned in to the watch season one, Netflix isn't going to help you out. Nor is it divulging that information to show creators or actors.

The reason for the secrecy is simple, Mr. Sarandos said at the AllThingsD: Dive Into Media conference on Tuesday. Netflix doesn't sell advertising, so it doesn't need to impress advertisers, and it isn't carried by cable or satellite distributors, so it doesn't need to justify itself to them either. He also said comparing Netflix viewing numbers to traditional TV ratings would be like comparing "apples to oranges."

That lack of transparency doesn't seem to be an issue for one of the most important content creators for the service right now. Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of "Arrested Development," the canceled Fox sitcom being resurrected by Netflix in May, said all content creators really want to know about their shows is whether "it's doing poorly, it's doing ok or it's doing great."

Mr. Hurwitz and "Arrested Development" star Will Arnett, who also appeared on the panel, said they see a few advantages in working with Netflix instead of a TV network. Perhaps the most notable is that they do not feel they need to "flatten" out -- or dumb down -- the plot to appeal to the broadest possible audience, insinuating that they needed to do that to work with a network like Fox. Mr. Arnett also said the rest of Hollywood is taking notice.

"They're all saying, 'Wait, how can we do that?'" Mr. Arnett said.

Still, despite the apparently early success of "House of Cards," Mr. Sarandos says exclusive, original programming will not suddenly become what Netflix bets biggest on. It will continue to be "an important component of what we're doing," with five original series premiering this year, and a nice differentiator, he said. But don't expect 15 or 20 original series next year.

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