How Netflix uses your data to work out what you want it to commission

Published March 9, 2014   |   
Siraj Datoo

Netflix, the internet streaming service, can ask producers of original programming to find new actors if the suggested ones don’t have a history of impressing the online audience. But Netflix’s director of corporate communications Joris Evers insists that was never the case when it came to House of Cards. “People really love Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright so that was fine.”

There were, of course, other elements that went into the decision to commission two seasons of House of Cards in one fell swoop (they also recently commissioned a third season).

Beyond the main actors, Netflix ran the data on a number of factors: it looked at director David Fincher and the type of cinematography he generates (previous titles include Fight Club and The Social Network) and reaction to the original (British) House of Cards released in 1990, as well as analysing whether the online audience tend to enjoy political drama.

Television networks traditionally ask for directors and writers to film a pilot – a standalone episode that acts as the first of a new series – before agreeing to commission a season. This was the case for the team behind House of Cards (Fincher, Spacey and writer Beau Willimon).

Netflix, however, was the only interested group that didn’t request a pilot and this played an instrumental role in the team’s decision to go with the online streaming network. For Netflix, pilots are a waste of time and money. The data indicated there was a big audience who would appreciate a new political drama and the investment was a risk grounded in fact.

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