— Brad Friedman (@TheBradBlog) December 3, 2013
There were half a dozen commentors asking, as a response to my post on the Mitt documentary, “What was Netflix thinking?” Which reminded me that I hadn’t yet put up a link to Tim Wu’s The New Republic article proclaiming/explaining “Netflix’s War on Mass Culture“:
… Whatever it calls itself, Netflix still has tech-company DNA; its game, in part, is data. Much more so than a network that reaches viewers through a third-party cable operator like Comcast or Time Warner, it knows what its customers actually like and how they behave. To the consternation of entertainment reporters, Netflix never reveals just what its numbers say (or anything resembling ratings), but Sarandos says its process for “House of Cards” worked roughly like this: “We read lots of data to figure out how popular Kevin Spacey was over his entire output of movies. How many people actually highly rate four or five of them?” Then his team did the same for David Fincher. If you liked The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Fight Club, “you’re probably a Fincher fan—you probably don’t know it, but you are,” he says. Once the company has a sense of how many fans are out there, it can “more accurately predict the absolute market size for a show.” And when you can do that, you don’t have to worry about pandering to, or offending, the masses.
Right now, American viewers are averaging only about 45 minutes of Internet-streaming video per week, a blip in comparison with total television intake. Given that audiences trained for decades to respond to event-driven television, how realistic is it to expect more viewers to shift from traditional TV? John Steinbeck offered one answer: “It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.” Any historian of consumer technology would add that machines change much faster than people….
Netflix believes it has a powerful factor in its favor as it tries to change viewers’ habits. “Human beings like control,” says Sarandos. “To make all of America do the same thing at the same time is enormously inefficient, ridiculously expensive, and most of the time, not a very satisfying experience.” There is a freedom achieved when your options extend beyond that night’s offerings and the limited selection of past episodes that networks make available on demand. Specifically, it’s the freedom to only watch television you really enjoy. The crude novelty factor that compels people to try “Whitney” or “Smash” ultimately yields a lot of disappointed and frustrated viewers. An old episode of “Freaks and Geeks” or “The West Wing” might in fact be more worth your time—a message Netflix has pressed in a recent ad campaign promoting its collections of classic series and cult hits. Eventually—or so goes the strategy—people won’t be able to imagine having their options defined by a programming grid. Not coincidentally, Netflix has been vying with Amazon to become the premiere source of streaming series for young children, for whom having to wait for new episodes of their favorite shows to air is unfathomable…
Presumably Netflix has the data to show there is a mineable vein of subscribers who will watch… quite possibly hate-watch, but it’s all the same to Netflix… a documentary about Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney. I’ve noticed Netflix has been losing the streaming warz to Hulu when it comes to Japanese anime and Korean historical soap dramas, so maybe the Netflix data indicates an opening for exotic semi-historical cartoons?