How Netflix uses our viewing data to create the shows we love

Making a hit TV show is as much a science as designing a car windshield and finding a cure for the common cold. It’s easy to think that TV executives throw money and actors at a screenplay and hope that it sticks with an audience but, as it turns out, there’s complete method behind the madness.

In a new Ted Talk, data scientist Sebastian Wenicke goes into great depth about how streaming networks like Amazon and Netflix go about developing shows and it all starts with us.

‘Netflix and Chill’ serves a greater purpose than moving into new territories with a potential suitor, it tells network executives what they should be aiming for.

Wenicke highlights the difference between Amazon and Netflix, the two leading streaming services. He describes a senior exec at Amazon’s process for deciding what shows they should be hosting: “He takes a bunch of ideas for TV shows, and from those ideas, through an evaluation, they select eight candidates for TV shows, and then he just makes the first episode of each one of these shows and puts them online for free for everyone to watch.”

What you don’t know when you’re binging through on all that free content is that Amazon are on the edge of their seats documenting everything you’re doing. Where you pause, skip, rewind and stop watching – it’s all being watched.

They use this data to steer them in the direction they think they should be going, however, as you’ll know if you saw Alpha House, it doesn’t always yield positive results.

Netflix, however, have mastered this process. They don’t rely on the raw data of viewing habits but rather the preferences of their viewers. They use the human elements of their audience to create shows accordingly.

For example, back in the early 2010s, they noticed that people favoured shows featuring US senators but it was a hell of gamble relying on that one piece of data. Netflix took the risk and made House of Cards, one of the most lauded political dramas of all time – it just shows that you have to be in it to win it.

What now?