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'Orange Is the New Black' audience is a mystery even to distributor

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.

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"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.'"


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