November 28, 2022

  • Netflix famously relies on data and uses analytics to inform creative decisions.
  • Streaming device data is a powerful weapon and a “flawed science,” former executives say.
  • Discussions about renewing offerings can be “controversial” between creative executives and data analysts.

Netflix is ​​known for the love of data. Giant running calls himself “A data-driven company since its inception,” a company where “analytical work arms decision makers across the company with useful metrics, insights, forecasts, and analytics tools so that everyone can be excellent at their job.” Creators and CEOs all over Hollywood feared and revered the analytics-first philosophy that live broadcasts bragged about.

For those who haven’t made creative deals with Netflix, its armies of data scientists and technologists have taken on a near-mythical force, 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 struck deals there, the streaming device’s reliance on data is a powerful weapon and a “flawed science.” And while the company’s creative decisions stem from the collaboration — sometimes “controversial” — between content, executives and data promoters, the latter wields more influence at Netflix than at old Hollywood studios.

How Netflix Data Works – aka Content, Strategy and Analysis teams

Television and film executive teams are drawn from among what Netflix calls the Content, Strategy and Analysis (CS&A) team, a unit “primarily responsible for deal evaluation, programming strategy, performance/audience insight, and competitive analysis” for each of Netflix’s recent job listings. Essentially, CS&A researchers help creative executives make decisions about whether to acquire or produce a particular project, the insider said, and provide an estimate of what the company should spend on it.

“When you want to buy a project, they will do an analysis and do a budget assessment,” a former Netflix executive told Insider.

Compared to similar teams at traditional production companies, Hollywood studios and networks, CS&A executives at Netflix have front-row seats in creative discussions, according to insiders.

In older studios, deciding whether to green-light a show or get a movie is “much more than a gut feeling,” said a former second Netflix executive. At a traditional entertainment company, this person added that market research and deal evaluation would typically fall to a new, innovative CEO rather than a separate analytics department.

“Sometimes it was useful and sometimes it was completely unhelpful,” said this Netflix Analytics executive. “If something was really unique or risky, they wouldn’t say, ‘Go with God’ or ‘Take that risk.’ They would say, ‘Our data doesn’t support [it]. ”

on me Netflix Tech BlogIn this article, the company details how it uses “machine learning and statistical modeling” to help content executives make decisions. The process involves examining similar shows and films, or overlays, that have already been released – a standard practice across the industry – and then mapping those shows onto a “similarity map” where “more similar titles appear closer together on a spatial distance scale such as Euclidean distance.” “.

Netflix TV Show Data Similarity Map

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


The company is also keeping in mind how many viewers might chime in with it and how the title will perform across other regions of the world – the latter being an important component, given Netflix’s international ambitions.

This can be especially useful when evaluating whether to get a specific IP address, said a former third Netflix official.

“Some of it is flawed science,” said the first insider, noting that Netflix has developed its formula over the years. Once it had more originals under its belt, the company switched from looking at comps among the titles it acquired to comps among the titles that were unique to its platform. Broadcasting has also tweaked the way it turns talent into creative accounts.

Bridgeton renovation is a no-brainer, but ‘any other service offering is a fight’

The third insider said the issue of renewing the series for an additional season is where the discussions could become “controversial”.

Artworks like Shonda Rhimes’ “Bridgerton” or the fictional “The Witcher” are not worth considering. But “any other show on the service is a battle,” this person said, adding that even shows that repeatedly make it to the Netflix Top 10 list may not get the watch hours or completion rates that are high enough for CS&A researchers to make a recommendation for renewal. This person said that this can sometimes lead to a difference of opinion between program managers and data analysts, particularly on shows that have smaller audiences but speak to underrepresented audiences.

At Netflix, the exec said, “The bar is very, very high.”

The atmosphere is usually collaborative, with CS&A researchers and program executives working together to craft revamping proposals, for example, Netflix president of US script Peter Friedlander and sometimes global head of TV Bela Bajaria. But sometimes data scientists need a little persuasion from serial executives to help get a show on the bubble another season.

It’s, ‘How do we make up an image to get Peter’s approval to get a renewal? We are working with CS&A to get [Friedlander and Bajaria] To understand why data is framed a certain way,” explained the third former CEO — adding that sometimes, an impassioned plea from a high-level model or actor can make all the difference.

Humans are ultimately in control of whether or not the project will be implemented. All of this data could be useful in assessing whether a title will be commissioned, but former Netflix executives who spoke with Insider said that every decision — and the risks that come with it — are “the ownership of the creative CEO.”

While Netflix has hired executives from old Hollywood studios like Disney, NBCUniversal, and more, it is still considered a technical intruder by some in the industry, who say it does not give younger content managers the tools to develop their own creative judgment and audience. sense.

“They don’t have proper training,” said the second former insider. “Data fills the gap of human knowledge and human experience – the skills you learn when it comes in a traditional way.”

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