Netflix is now undoubtedly an entertainment behemoth. In the first quarter of 2014 alone, they streamed 6.5 billion hours of TV and posted revenues of over a billion. Last week, CEO Reed Hastings and and Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt talked about the future of Netflix, and how they’re going to harness their vast oceans of data to stay at the pinnacle of the market. In short; they’re going to personalise and recommend channels, but not use the data to manipulate the shows themselves.
Speaking at the 2014 Internet Week in New York, Hunt outlined how the future of Netflix lied in tailoring precise recommendations for its users. “Our vision is you won’t see a grid and you won’t see a sea of titles,” he stated in his keynotes speech. “Instead you’ll see one or two perfect suggestions that perfectly capture what you want to watch right now depending on your mood and who is with you, who is sitting with you at the TV right now. I think this version is possible.”
He also discussed the limitations of traditional broadcasting, and what he called the “tyranny of the grid”- the way that traditional TV broadcasting relies on a fixed, 24-hour schedule of programmes, usually dominated by what’s universally popular, and not necessarily artistically valuable. Netflix, Hunt stated, aimed to use its data to provide “48m different channels for 48 million different subscribers”, giving a home to cult and niche programming as well as common-denominator favourites. For instance, Netflix made the fourth season of beloved cult comedy Arrested Development, after it was axed by Fox in 2006 due to low ratings. It also alleged a new season of sci-fi cult hit Firefly in the meanest April Fool’s joke ever.
However, whilst Netflix will be using its big data to know your tastes better than you do, it will not be using Big Data to optimise the shows it makes. Speaking at the inaugural Code Conference this week, Hastings stated that data wouldn’t be trampling on the artistic vision of the show’s creators any time soon. “If you have great creators, and you give ‘em freedom, you can end up with an incredible product,” he stated.
He did say, however, that he let House of Cards creator David Fincher know exactly how many people switched off when Kevin Spacey’s character strangled a dog. Fincher replied “Don’t ever tell me that again”.
The two speeches seem to add up to a vision of using data to steer customers to quality content, rather than let data tamper with the quality of the content itself. If you want to experience the quality of Netflix’s content yourself, we recommend the second season of Orange is the New Black, which premieres on Netflix this Friday.