by Jason Snell
Who watched ‘Severance’? Don’t ask Ben Stiller
Kayla Cobb of Decider interviewed Ben Stiller, executive producer of the excellent “Severance” on Apple TV+. Cobb asked Stiller how Apple shares data about the show’s viewership with the people who make it, and Stiller’s response was strange, but not really surprising:
…They don’t tell, it’s really weird. They sort of give you kind of an idea. But it’s not like ratings or box office numbers or anything like that. It’s like graphs and charts that are relative… The fun thing was going to [San Diego] Comic-Con and having a full house for a panel and seeing all those people there. That was the first time I was like, “Oh, wow, this is really like… There are people who are really watching this, like human beings to connect with on it.”
This is a common complaint from the creative people involved in streaming TV. Unlike the days of Nielsen ratings, today the relative success of streaming television is data that’s treated like a trade secret. Knowing that people are liking your show, that it’s a hit or even a word-of-mouth cult sensation, can be a big boost to the energy and motivation of the people who make the shows.
The fact that Ben Stiller still doesn’t have any idea how many people watched “Severance” is par for the course in streaming TV today—this isn’t about Apple, it’s about the entire streaming business—but it’s also kind of ridiculous.