Netflix Ratings Leak: 200,000 Start ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ From Episode One Each Month, Says ABC Chief

“I don’t think of Netflix as friend or foe. I think of Netflix as a valued customer,” ABC’s Ben Sherwood says at USC Institute

Grey's Anatomy Bruce Ramer Ben Sherwood
ABC/Mikey Glazer

While verifiable Netflix viewer data persists as the mythical holy grail of entertainment industry metrics, Disney’s top TV executive Ben Sherwood says, “Every month 200,000 people watch Episode 1 of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ on Netflix.”

Sherwood, who is the co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney/ABC Television Group made the remarks — a rare toehold in to any numerical data from the opaque company — during a keynote interview with entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer at USC’s Institute of Entertainment Law and Business on Saturday.

“2.4 million people a year discover ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ on Netflix,” Sherwood continued. “That has propelled ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ now in its 13th season on ABC, to great success.”


Sherwood speaking on stage with Bruce Ramer. (Mikey Glazer)

If anyone outside Netflix would have a handle on “Grey’s” metrics, it would be Sherwood. He oversees both the studio that has produced the medical drama and the network that has aired it since its debut in March 2005.

“I don’t think of Netflix as friend or foe. I think of Netflix as a valued customer,” Sherwood added. “They have licensed our content for years. We have had a very productive relationship, from which quite a few of our shows have succeeded on Netflix in all kinds of ways that have had a benefit for ABC.”

“Casting is coming from the marketing department,” Universal’s Sara Perry (left) said of the decision making behind social media stars landing roles in studio feature films. On the changing nature of “talent” for features and feature marketing, she added “We paid a dog $500.”

As the most prominent huddle of Hollywood lawyers and accountants each year, USC’s confab brings together 800 professionals (at an un-chic hour of 8:45 a.m. on a Saturday) for hours of panels on hot button topics affecting the future of revenue streams in the entertainment industry.

The downfall of Harvey Weinstein and the sexual harassment, assault and rape allegations against him barely came up. One speaker said that he had gotten a directive not to talk about it at all, but it was unclear if a piece of paper he held up purporting to be a warning letter to avoid Weinstein was legitimate or merely a prop.

Instead, it was Netflix, Amazon and Hulu that cast the biggest shadow over the proceedings.

Dr. Jeffrey Cole (right) with attendees.

Dr. Jeffrey Cole, director for USC’s Center for the Digital Future, advised that Netflix will spend 7-8 billion on original content in 2018, “more than all six studios and four broadcast networks combined.” Cole also warned that if Amazon decides to acquire major sports rights — which they could at a loss — that “after 40 years of predictions will force the networks to revise and repurpose as OTT and/or subscription services.”

Other highlights included a spirited music panel with WME’s Worldwide head of music, Marc Geiger, Universal Music Group’s general counsel Jeffrey Harleston and manager Ron Laffitte (One Republic, Pharrell Williams), moderated by the dean of music business money, Don Passman.

Music men: Geiger, Harleston, Passman, and Laffitte. (Mikey Glazer)

This group had good news, bad news and, like everyone else, wait-and-see anxiety about Netflix and the other tech players who are disrupting media.

First, the good news: Harleston revealed that getting “playlisted” on certain Spotify playlists can generate $100,000 in a week.

For bad news, the group pointed at YouTube as the thorn in the re-stabilized music industry.

“When we prepare for (song) launches now, Youtube is the last part of the conversation,” Laffitte said. “We know that no matter what YouTube says to us, it almost never comes true. Will they market off-platform? No. Will they market on-platform? No. It’s just an on-demand service that doesn’t pay the artist.”

Geiger raised the specter of premium streaming services being acquired by a Netflix or Facebook. He noted that if there are such mergers, the overall revenue pot would go up from a combined video and audio subscription fee, but questioned how much of that monthly fee would be allocated to the musicians.