By cultural indications, the Netflix original series 'Orange Is the New Black' appears to be a hit.
The prison comedy, based on Piper Kerman's autobiography about her 15-month incarceration in a federal correctional facility on a decade-old drug offense, has garnered extensive media coverage -- and a parody photo featuring the puppets from the Broadway musical "Avenue Q."
But the precise size of its audience remains cloaked in mystery -- even to the show's distributor, Lionsgate. Although Netflix disclosed, during a recent earnings call, that "Orange Is the New Black" drew more viewers in its first week than its Emmy-nominated series "House of Cards," it withheld viewership numbers.
"We don't have access to that," James Packer, Lionsgate president of worldwide televsion and digital distribution, said in an appearance at Broadcasting & Cable's Next TV Summit in San Francisco.
Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, has resisted industry pressure to release audience data -- saying such information isn't relevant for an online movie and TV service that neither sells advertising nor collects a per-subscriber fee from cable and satellite TV distributors.
But Packer said the lack of disclosure has posed a challenge, as Lionsgate attempts to sell the series in global markets where Netflix is not a household name. Its sales teams have used other sources of information to sell the show to other TV distributors around the world, he said.
"Ultimately I want data to help my team internationally," Packer said. "You can't do that on 'Orange.'"