Netflix Knows Exactly When You'll Get Hooked

In Australia, we often have the double-edged sword of being slightly late to see new broadcast TV shows. We have to wait, but we also have a better idea of whether they’re worth watching. But now that on-demand, all-you-can-eat streaming video services like Netflix are around, we aren’t drip-fed episodes of shows — we get them all at once. So how do you find out what you like? Well, you watch it and see. And Netflix knows exactly how many episodes it’ll take to draw you in and make you watch an entire season.

With such a massive trove of audience data — the shows that particular users of particular accounts, in particular countries, watch, how often they watch them, and crucially how many episodes they watch before they’re more likely to watch the entire season — Netflix is perfectly positioned to get this kind of insight into our TV binge-watching habits.

And as it turns out, the data is all over the place; it depends on the show. But as a general rule, Australians are a little more cautious about committing to any given show than the rest of the world — on average, we take around one to two episodes more than the rest of the world to decide that a show like House of Cards or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is something that we want to watch.

House of Cards, for example, hooked the world in by episode three of its first season, but Australians took five episodes to convince that noted Malcolm Turnbull impersonator Frank Underwood was one to keep an eye on; we were a little more optimistic with Orange Is The New Black, though, committing after four.

Those numbers, by the way, are the point at which Netflix sees that 70 per cent or more viewers will watch an entire season after; basically, if you’ve watched the first four episodes of OITNB then you’re a 70 per cent shoe-in to watch the rest of the season to completion — probably all at once, on your couch, with a giant bag of chips beside you.

The data is fascinating — Brazilians love House of Cards, the French prefer How I Met Your Mother, the Dutch love everything more than the rest of the worlds, but Australians are cautious. The point at which viewers commit to a show, too, has precisely zero correlation with audience size or attrition of viewers between episodes.

Interestingly enough, Netflix found that no single show hooked viewers after just one episode. That suggests — conveniently for Netflix — that releasing a show season all at once makes for a better viewing experience for audiences and a better pay-off for the companies that produce them. That traditional all-or-nothing “pilot” episode is no longer an important thing if you’re making a show on Netflix, it seems — although it probably doesn’t hurt.

Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, said that throwing everything into a pilot episode is not necessary any more. “Given the precious nature of primetime slots on traditional TV, a series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show. However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot. This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made.”

Here’s the data, straight from Netflix’s number-crunching servers:

And here’s the methodology of the survey:

The data in this research was pulled from accounts that started watching season one of the selected series between January 2015 – July 2015 in Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK and US and between April 2015 – July 2015 for Australia and New Zealand. A hooked episode was defined when 70% of viewers who watched that episode went on to complete season one Hooked episodes were first identified by country, then averaged to create the global hooked episode. The hooked episode had no correlation to total viewership numbers or attrition.


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