June 7, 2023

  • Netflix has a reputation for relying on data and using analytics to inform creative decisions.
  • Streaming data is both a powerful weapon and a “flawed science,” former executives said.
  • Discussions about updating the show could create a “controversy” between creative executives and data analysts.

Netflix is ​​known for its love of data.streaming giant call yourself “A data-driven company since its inception,” where “analytics provides useful metrics, insights, predictions, and analytical tools to decision makers around the company so everyone can excel at their function.” Hollywood’s Creatives and executives are starting to fear and respect the analytics-first philosophy touted by streaming companies.

For those who haven’t done a creative deal with Netflix, its army of data scientists and technologists has wielded an almost mythical power, purportedly turning audience data into definitive decisions about creative projects.

But the process is far more complicated than that. Streaming’s reliance on data is both a powerful weapon and a “flawed science,” according to three former Netflix executives and others who have done deals there who spoke to Insider. While the company’s creative decisions stem from collaborations between content and executives and data mongers—sometimes “controversial”—the latter has far more influence at Netflix than at traditional Hollywood studios.

How Netflix’s data experts (i.e. its content, strategy and analytics teams) work

The TV and film executive team is staffed by what Netflix calls its content, strategy and analysis (CS&A) team, which is “primarily responsible for deal valuation, programming strategy, performance/audience insights and competitive analysis,” according to a recent Netflix job listing. Essentially, CS&A researchers help creative executives decide whether to acquire or produce a particular project, and estimate how much the company should spend on that project, insiders say.

“When you want to buy an item, they analyze it and make a budget,” a former Netflix executive told Insider.

Insiders say Netflix’s CS&A executives have taken more front-row seats in creative discussions than traditional production houses and similar teams at Hollywood studios and networks.

Another former Netflix executive said that at traditional studios, deciding whether to green-light a show or acquire a movie is “more of a gut feeling.” At a traditional entertainment company, market research and deal valuations often fall to junior creative executives rather than a separate analytics department, the person added.

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

superior Netflix’s Tech Blog, the company breaks down how it uses “machine learning and statistical modeling” to help content executives make decisions. The process involves examining similar shows and movies or combinations that have been released — standard practice across the industry — and then plotting these combinations on a “similarity map,” where “more similar titles are measured against spatial distance, Such as Euclidean distance.”

Netflix TV show data similarity graph

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


The company also considers how many viewers are likely to tune in, and how the production will perform in the rest of the world — a key component given Netflix’s international ambitions.

A third former Netflix executive said it was especially useful when assessing whether to acquire certain IPs.

“Some of this is flawed science,” the first insider said, noting that Netflix has been developing its equations over the years. Once it had more originals, the company moved from looking at combinations between titles it had acquired to those unique to its platform. Streaming has also tweaked the way it incorporates talent into creative computing.

‘Bridgetton’ renewal is a no-brainer, but ‘any other show on the service is a battle’

The question of whether to renew a series for another season is where discussions become “controversial,” a third person familiar with the matter said.

Hits like “Bridgerton” by Shonda Rhimes or the fantastical “The Witcher” are a no-brainer. But “any other show on the service is a struggle,” the person said, adding that even shows that repeatedly top Netflix’s top 10 may not get what’s considered enough for CS&A researchers Viewing time or completion rates for proposed renewals. This can sometimes spark disagreement between show executives and data analysts, especially when it comes to smaller audiences but speaking to underrepresented viewers, the person said. on the program.

At Netflix, “the bar is too high,” the executive said.

The atmosphere is often collaborative, with CS&A researchers and show executives working together to draft renewal proposals for Netflix’s U.S. scripted series head Peter Friedlander and sometimes head of global TV Bella Bajaria. But sometimes data scientists need a little persuasion from a series executive to help a show in the bubble succeed in another season.

“It’s, ‘How do we form a picture to get Peter’s support to get a contract extension?’ is what we got in partnership with CS&A [Friedlander and Bajaria] See why we structure data the way we do it,” explained a third former executive — adding that sometimes impassioned requests from well-known showrunners or actors can make a difference.

Humans ultimately have control over whether a project is successful or not. All of this data helps weigh whether to commission a game, but the former Netflix executive who spoke with Insider said that every decision — and the risks that come with it — is “owned by creative executives.”

While Netflix has hired executives from traditional Hollywood studios like Disney and NBCUniversal, it is still seen as a tech interloper by some in the industry who say it doesn’t give young content executives the tools to develop their own creative judgment and audiences Feel.

“These streamers didn’t have the proper training,” said a second former insider. “Data is filling in the gaps in human knowledge and human experience — skills you learn when you show up in the traditional way.”

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