Creating shows by data: an unstable house of cards?

Today, the long wait is over. Netflix finally broadcasts the fourth season of the House of Cards. The great success story about Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, aiming to run again as president of the United States, is the ingredient of a promising new season. But how did House of Cards become such a success? Netflix invested 100 million dollars in House of Cards before they made one single trail episode. Was it an investment in uncertainty of 100 million dollars? Or did Netflix know that its success was an understatement?

How does it work?
Netflix made the choice of investing 100 million dollars on House of Cards based on big data. All subscribers to Netflix are providing lots of data which is gathered by an intellectual algorithm. Their habits in viewing history, ratings and their preferences for actors and producers are valuable data points for Netflix. Moreover, how long does the viewer watch the show at what point do they stop it? All this data is stored and are helping Netflix determine potential success for future shows.
Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix said in an interview: “We can determine, we remarkable bind of accuracy, the potential audience for a show.”

So will data make every new broadcast a success in future?
As we know the importance of data, will every producer use it and make success stories? Amazon did also use data to find a new show Alpha House. The data established a clear picture of what the audience wanted: a show about four Republican senators. Remember the script of a single senator from House of Cards? Alpha House just received an average score on IMDb instead of the exceptional results they were hoping for. Now something scary comes along. We want to clarify everything with data but results show the limitations.
In TEDTalks, Sebastian Wernicke held a presentation in which he stated that it is recommended to use data just as a basis. What makes a show good lays in the fact of taking risks instead of following a save, data driven decision. Still it is up to the scene writers to make a show fantastic. “No matter how powerful, data is just a tool.”

This complements the vision of Ted Sarandos: “We can determine the potential audience of a show. But then it is up to the storyteller to make a good show.” Netflix had key success factors with Oscar nominated screen writer Beau Willimon, recognized movie stars as Kevin Spacey and a piece of intellectual property which was the original British script of House of Cards.
Sarandon: “Take all the data and viewing behaviour and say there is an enormous audience for that show. We can invest very aggressively in it if we are willing to bet that the show will be executed well. Still everything is execution depended, as it always has been.”

And that is what can break a show with four senators and make a show with one senator go skyrocket.



Channel 4 News (2016) ‘Making movies by algorithm? Netflix’s magic formula’

Sebastian Wernicke (2016) ‘How to use data to make a hit tv show’ TEDTalks

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