Alexis Madrigal attributes the success of the streaming giant to its ability to hyper-tailor content to viewer interests, using 76,897 genre descriptors:
Using large teams of people specially trained to watch movies, Netflix deconstructed Hollywood. They paid people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata. This process is so sophisticated and precise that taggers receive a 36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness. They capture dozens of different movie attributes. They even rate the moral status of characters. When these tags are combined with millions of users viewing habits, they become Netflix’s competitive advantage. The company’s main goal as a business is to gain and retain subscribers. And the genres that it displays to people are a key part of that strategy. “Members connect with these [genre] rows so well that we measure an increase in member retention by placing the most tailored rows higher on the page instead of lower,” the company revealed in a 2012 blog post. The better Netflix shows that it knows you, the likelier you are to stick around.
And now, they have a terrific advantage in their efforts to produce their own content: Netflix has created a database of American cinematic predilections. The data can’t tell them how to make a TV show, but it can tell them what they should be making. When they create a show like House of Cards, they aren’t guessing at what people want.
Salmon puts this strategy in a less favorable light. He observes that Netflix “can’t afford the content that its subscribers most want to watch”:
As a result, Netflix can’t, any longer, aspire to be the service which allows you to watch the movies you want to watch. That’s how it started off, and that’s what it still is, on its legacy DVDs-by-mail service. But if you don’t get DVDs by mail, Netflix has made a key tactical decision to kill your queue — the list of movies that you want to watch. … So Netflix has been forced to attempt a distant second-best: scouring its own limited library for the films it thinks you’ll like, rather than simply looking for the specific movies which it knows (because you told it) that you definitely want to watch. This, from a consumer perspective, is not an improvement.
Last month, Netflix commissioned a survey that found “of 1,500 US adults who stream TV shows at least once a week, 61% binge watch regularly”:
Respondents were not provided with a definition of binge watching, but 73% defined it as watching two to six single episodes of a TV show in one sitting. That may come as a surprise to some self-proclaimed binge watchers, as watching two episodes in one go actually seems so normal that it’s hardly worth noting. … 73% of those surveyed said they enjoy binge watching and don’t feel guilty about it – big shocker there. And 79% said binge watching makes shows more enjoyable, while 37% said they prefer to “save” new shows or seasons to stream them at a later date instead of watching them when they’re new.
On that note, David Koepsell contends that rapidly consuming a TV series creates a shared cultural canon:
While in the past, I might have felt trapped by having missed the first three seasons [of Game of Thrones], unlikely to try to lock into the next and begin mid-story, I could quickly come up to speed with something that is clearly now an important part of our culture. The New Canon is both unhindered by geography and unrestrained by time. Binging is a legitimate and sometimes necessary way for us to join the broader culture, engage with fans around the world, and perform a new form of communion.
Michelle Smith also sees advantages to binging:
A significant number of people still consume series such as True Blood by viewing or streaming weekly in order to avoid spoilers and keep current with social media conversations. Yet many other TV viewers now prefer to gorge on an entire season via streaming, downloading, or DVD. This method of consumption removes the suspenseful wait between episodes, and enables the viewer to more clearly follow, and remember, plot developments.