Predicting a sure fire hit on TV is said to be almost impossible, which is why it’s traditional for most networks to commission and test pilots for most of the major shows we now see.
Netflix bucked that trend when in 2012 it commissioned “House of Cards” without a pilot. It was so certain of success that it paid up front for 26 episodes, over 1200 minutes of TV at a budget of around $100m.
Netflix believe in the power of data.
They track and analyse a lot of data.
Netflix has over 85 million customers who use their streaming service. It is this large user base that provides Netflix with all the data they need. Traditional ‘broadcast’ television networks don’t have the same level of access. They get much of their information from surveys based on samples of people who agree to have their viewing habits recorded.
Netflix has the advantage of being an internet company and this means they can tap into much more data from all their viewers.
Netflix can track not only what you watch but:
- When you pause, rewind, or fast forward
- What day you watch content (perhaps not too surprisingly Netflix has found people watch TV shows during the week and movies on the weekend.)
- The date you watch
- What time you watch content
- Where you watch (postcode)
- What device you use to watch (Do you like to use your tablet for TV shows, is children’s content watched on i-pads?)
- The ratings given (about 4 million per day)
- Searches (about 3 million per day)
- Browsing and scrolling behaviour
Netflix also looks at data within movies and TV shows. The brand pays people to watch and tag different elements within movies and shows. Their aim is to provide better recommendations for other films and shows you might like to watch. So rather than the standard genres like ‘Drama’, ‘Horror’, Sci-Fi” they have created some 80,000 new micro-genres which include “comedy films featuring talking animals” or “teen comedy featuring a strong female lead”.
It was analysis of data like this that led Netflix to identify that people who loved the original 1990s BBC version of House of Cards also liked films starring Kevin Spacey and films directed by David Fincher. Based on this they outbid other networks including HBO and ABC for the rights to House of Cards and made a new version starring Kevin Spacey with the first two shows by David Fincher.
Jonathan Friedland, Chief Communications Officer, says “Because we have a direct relationship with consumers, we know what people like to watch and that helps us understand how big the interest is going to be for a given show. It gave us some confidence that we could find an audience for a show like House of Cards.”
The rest as they say in the movie business is “history”. House of Cards has had huge ratings and been a critical success, scooping a host of awards. Season 5 was run earlier this year.