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How Many People Are Watching Apple TV+ Anyway?

Apple tells us that "Ted Lasso" is winning over viewers, but declines to say how many. Third-party data companies have some insight.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Jason Sudeikis

Apple CEO Tim Cook and “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis

Christopher Polk for Variety

During Apple’s second-quarter earnings call July 27, executives declared Apple TV+ a success. The streamer’s 35 Emmy nominations, CEO Tim Cook said, “speaks to the quality of our programming and an enthusiastic reception from customers and critics alike” while the Season 2 premiere of “Ted Lasso” saw the show “continue to win over viewers with its heartwarming message about the power of community, compassion, and hope.”

As to how many subscribers are watching “Ted Lasso” win them over — well, that’s hard to say. The company’s services division, which includes Apple TV+ as well as music, games, and other subscription products, counts 700 million paid subscribers. That’s up over 25 percent from last year, and nearly four times the number of paid subscriptions four years ago. Apple TV+ launched nearly two years ago, which might suggest it’s making an impact in the company’s subscription business. To what extent, only Apple knows for sure.

As consumer attention moves from theaters and TV to streaming platforms, third-party viewer tracking has not followed suit. Streaming executives decline to make that data available, often even to their creators. Netflix likes to report viewership on only select titles; it also counts anything watched for at least two minutes as a view. Still, like Disney and HBO Max, Netflix dutifully reports its subscriber numbers every quarter, offering a valuable snapshot on how its reach and cultural resonance changes over time. Even Amazon, which bundles its streaming offering with Prime, recently reported that 175 million people streamed Prime Video content in the last year.

Apple remains an outlier. As it spends billions on building out its film and TV operation, there’s no hard numbers — only third-party data based on projections and estimates.

“When the story is good, Apple talks about it,” said Thomas Hughes, CEO for Americas at Vuulr, who previously was head of worldwide digital distribution at Lionsgate. Hughes pointed to Tuesday’s earnings call, where Apple execs broke out iPhone sales figures from the rest of its device revenue.

“Is Apple wrong to hide the numbers? No,” Hughes said. “Apple has a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders and growing a new video service, particularly when one is late to the party, is hard and expensive. Apple is a for-profit company and should use every tool at their disposal to ethically and morally succeed.”

In light of incomplete or nonexistent data from streamers, a number of companies have come up with ways to measure various platforms’ and shows’ reach. Several have shown recent growth for Apple TV+, but it appears the company is behind the long-established players.

Reelgood, an online guide that aggregates and organizes content across streaming platforms, reported that Season 1 of “Ted Lasso” represented 1.9 percent of Reelgood streams during the show’s first two days of availability in 2020. Season 2, which premiered on Apple TV+ last week, was much more popular: It represented 4.6 percent of Reelgood streams.

In a Reelgood report compiled for IndieWire, the company said that AppleTV+ appears to be on the right track: “This growth in streaming and engagement for Apple TV+ Originals (spurred by terrific reviews and word-of-mouth marketing) seems to be affecting brand-new releases as well such as ‘Lisey’s Story’ (2.5 percent) and ‘Schmigadoon!’ (2.1 percent), which opened to bigger shares of streaming compared to ‘Ted Lasso’ when it was on its first season.”

Another company, Parrot Analytics, found that “Ted Lasso” was the second-most in-demand original show in the U.S. as of July 24, right behind Disney+’s “Loki.”

“‘Ted Lasso’ been a key driver of Apple TV+’s demand share growth in the US and worldwide over the last year,” reads a Parrot report, which uses data from peer-to-peer downloads, YouTube, social media, and IMDb to project streaming popularity. “With ‘Ted Lasso’’s weekly release schedule — a strategy proven to build audience demand over time — we expect to see these already impressive numbers to grow further over the coming weeks.”

Parrot’s most recent calculation of global demand for originals saw that Netflix had the greatest share at 48.3 percent, Prime Video came in second at 12.7 percent, and Disney+ was third with 7.3 percent. Hulu, Apple TV+, and HBO Max all had around 5 or 6 percent of demand, while the fledgling Paramount+ saw only 2.7 percent of demand.

Hughes said that a single successful show won’t guarantee streaming-service success.

“Consumers want, and now expect, companies like Disney, Netflix, Starz, HBO and Apple to back the truck up to their front doors and figuratively dump thousands of films and series into their living rooms,” he said. “The corresponding truth is the content dumping exercise consumers have come to expect means companies like Apple need truckloads of money to accomplish the task. Good thing they do.”

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