November 27, 2022

  • Netflix famously relies on data and uses analytics to inform creative decisions.
  • Streamer data is both a powerful weapon and a “flawed science,” former executives say.
  • Discussions about renewing the show can be “conflicting” between creative executives and data analysts.

Netflix famously loves data. The streaming giant calls himself “A data-driven company since its inception,” where “analytics equips decision-makers around the company with actionable metrics, insights, predictions, and analytical tools so everyone can excel at their jobs.” And creatives and execs across Hollywood have come to fear and respect the streamer’s unyielding analytics-first philosophy.

For those who don’t have a creative contract with Netflix, its army of data scientists and technicians has taken on almost mythical power, allegedly turning audience data into clear decisions about creative projects.

But the process is much more complicated than that. According to three former Netflix executives who spoke to Insider, as well as others who have done deals there, the streamer’s reliance on data is both a powerful weapon and a “flawed science.” And while the company’s creative decisions stem from collaboration — sometimes “contentious” — between content and execs and data-mongers, the latter wield far more influence at Netflix than at Hollywood studios.

How Netflix works with data — aka its content, strategy and analytics teams — works

The TV and film executive teams are staffed by Netflix’s Content, Strategy and Analytics (CS&A) team, a unit “primarily responsible for deal evaluation, programming strategy, performance/audience insights and competitive analysis,” per a recent Netflix job listing. Essentially, CS&A researchers help creative executives decide whether to acquire or produce a particular project, insiders said, and offer an estimate of what the company should spend on it.

“When you buy a project, they’ll do an analysis and ballpark a budget on it,” a former Netflix exec told Insider.

Compared to traditional production companies and similar teams at Hollywood studios and networks, Netflix’s CS&A executives have more of a front-row seat to creative discussions, insiders said.

At legacy studios, deciding whether or not to greenlight a show or acquire a film is “much more than gut instinct,” said a second former Netflix executive. At a traditional entertainment company, this person added, market research and deal evaluation typically fall to a junior creative executive rather than a separate analytics department.

“Sometimes it was helpful and sometimes it was completely useless,” the executive said of Netflix’s analysis. “If something is really unique or a risk, they’re not going to say, ‘Go with God,’ or ‘Take that risk.’ They’ll say, ‘Our data doesn’t support it [it]”

on Netflix’s technology blog, breaks down how the company uses “machine learning and statistical modeling” to help content executives make decisions. The process involves examining similar shows and movies, or comps, that have already been released — standard practice across the industry — and then plotting those comps on a “similarity map” where “more similar titles appear closer to one another in terms of a spatial distance metric.” such as Euclidean distance.”

Netflix TV data shows the similarity map

Netflix uses “machine learning and statistical modeling” to help content executives make decisions.


Given Netflix’s international ambitions, it also depends on how many viewers the company can connect with and how the title will perform in other regions of the world — the latter being an important factor.

That can be particularly useful when evaluating whether to acquire certain IP, said a third former Netflix exec.

“Some of it is a flawed science,” said the first insider, adding that Netflix has evolved its equation over the years. Once it had more originals under its belt, the company moved away from looking at comps among titles unique to its platform to comps among acquired titles. Streamer has also changed the way it factors talent into creative calculations.

A ‘Bridgerton’ renewal is a no-brainer, but ‘any other show on the service is a struggle’

The question of whether to renew a series for an additional season is where negotiations could get “contentious,” a third insider said.

Hits like the Shonda Rhimes-produced “Bridgerton” or the fantastic “The Witcher” are no-brainers. But “any other show on the service is a struggle,” this person said, adding that even shows that repeatedly hit Netflix’s top 10 list won’t achieve viewing time or completion rates high enough for CS&A researchers to recommend renewal. is considered . That can sometimes encourage differences of opinion between show execs and data analysts, especially on shows that have smaller audiences but speak to an underrepresented audience, this person said.

At Netflix, the exec says, “the bar is so, so high.”

The atmosphere is typically collaborative, with CS&A researchers and show execs working together to draft renewal proposals, say, Netflix’s head of US scripted series Peter Friedlander and sometimes head of global TV Bella Bazaria. But sometimes data scientists need a little convincing from series execs to help a show on the bubble get a shot at another season.

“It’s, ‘How do we create a picture to get buy-in from Peter for renewal?’ We are working with CS&A to get this [Friedlander and Bajaria] To understand why we’re creating the data a certain way,” explained a third former executive — adding that sometimes, an emotional appeal from a high-profile showrunner or actor can make a difference.

People ultimately hold the reins of whether a project gets built. All that data can be helpful in determining whether to commission a title, but former Netflix execs who spoke to Insider said each decision — and the risk that comes with it — “is owned by the creative executive.”

Although Netflix has hired execs from legacy Hollywood studios such as Disney, NBCUniversal and others, it is viewed as a technological interloper by some in the industry, who say it does not give content executives their own creative judgment and audience development tools. senses.

“These streamers don’t have proper training,” said a second former insider. “The information is filling the hole in human knowledge and human experience — the skills you learn when you come in a traditional way.”

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