CBS' groundbreaking agreement with Amazon to stream episodes of “Under the Dome” four days after they run on the network presented viewers with yet another option to see the series based on Stephen King's novel. But while the network is providing data on the many ways people are consuming its shows, the actual impact of the Prime agreement is as mysterious as “Under the Dome” itself.
When “Under the Dome” premiered on June 24, 13.53 million viewers tuned in either live or watched it “time-shifted” on their DVRs the same day, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine. That number jumps 4.23 million when CBS includes digital video recorder viewership over the following week — a sizable number that reflects just how much DVRs have impacted how people consume television since their usage picked up in the mid-'00s.
The rest of the numbers are relatively small but illustrate both the fragmenting of audiences across multiple platforms and the range of viewing options available to those audiences. More than 1.6 million viewers watched “Under the Dome” via Video On Demand through their cable or satellite providers, and an additional 491,448 viewers watched the premiere over the next 22 days via CBS.com.
Unfortunately for both CBS and for people who simply want to know the real impact of streaming, Amazon is not releasing actual numbers on its “Under the Dome” viewership. Amazon Prime did report to CBS that the first episode was the service's most-watched television series premiere since Prime began in February 2011. That's a dramatic statement that says almost nothing, since the difference between Prime viewership of “Under the Dome” and, say, the first episode of “Falling Skies” on Prime is probably huge. Although the total numbers without Prime come in just under 20 million viewers — a big number in this day and age — the stats are incomplete without Prime numbers.
It's now fairly established that neither Netflix nor Amazon Prime has any real incentive to release numbers — it does not have to establish advertising rates via ratings services the way traditional television has done since the days of Lucille Ball. So, Netflix and Prime simply keep the numbers under wraps, and since they are working on a scale that is relatively new and not really comparable to traditional television, releasing numbers would probably lead to wild misinterpretation on Wall Street and result in stock price fluctuations.
My gut reaction is this: if the numbers were just astronomical for either Prime's “Under the Dome” or Netflix's “Orange is the New Black,” the company would trumpet those numbers to the heavens. Instead, they are staying quiet while this platform is still in its infancy. They don't want either viewers or industry analysts to question whether this new thing is going to be a true game changer — something both Amazon and Netflix seem to be betting on with crazy confidence.