Netflix’s House of Cards an Experiment in Data-Driven Television

David Carr from the New York Times wrote a great article this week on how, with House of Cards, Netflix used its mountain of viewer data to give the viewers exactly what they wanted.

Over the years, Netflix has built a proprietary database on what shows its 33 million viewers watch, when they watch them, whether they watch them all the way through, and whether they like them.

Most of the focus with House of Cards is the fact that the show is being released online and all-at-once. What’s more interesting to me it that Netflix knew ahead of time that “House of Cards” would be a hit (full disclosure: Netflix hasn’t released numbers on how many people have watched the show, so we don’t know for sure if it’s a hit. But it’s already the most-watched show on Netflix).

(In his 2008 book Super Crunchers, Ian Ayres looked at how a group of Hollywood outsiders was using using data and Moneyball-style statistics to predict which movies would be blockbusters.)

Netflix is in the unique position now of owning the viewer data and the distribution. It’s like if CBS was the only network with access to Nielsen ratings. Stay tuned. This is going to get interesting.

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One thought on “Netflix’s House of Cards an Experiment in Data-Driven Television

  1. Thanks Nate – the original article is a little thin on understanding, and thick on hyperbole, but makes for interesting reading. For example, “… the same thing that makes Netflix so valuable — it knows everything about us… ” – Netflix doesn’t know “everything about us”, but it is able to use viewer profiling to create a useful probabilistic model, and then monetize this by predicting likely hits.

    It would be even more interesting to know a little more about *how* Netflix is achieving this – the “Big Data” meme is used to imply sophisticated predictive analytics, based on advanced algorithms, but this smacks of the Wizard of Oz to me. Sure, machine learning and algorithmic approaches can uncover interesting and surprising patterns… but is a mini-series starring Kevin Spacey, based on a British classic, really a surprise hit genre? It may simply be that Netflix employs a bunch of useful analysts to plough their data, looking for interesting patterns… I can find a *lot* or articles on the impact (great PR Netflix!), but very little on the techniques employed.

    Any clues, anyone?

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