One of the keys to building a successful website is to get to know the behavior of your site’s visitors and use that knowledge to predict future behavior (think Amazon). While there are a number of different strategies that go into achieving this objective, (including utilizing cookies, establishing goals, tracking analytics and conversions) some companies seem to know their visitors better than others.
One company that has mastered this predictive behavior approach over the years is Netflix.
Netflix claims that between 75%-80% of the videos that users end up watching on their service come directly from the company’s recommendations about what to watch next. So, how does Netflix know you so well? Big data mining and predictive recommendation algorithms. Sounds like a problem that only the Genius Bar can fix.
Netflix’s data mining started with the basics, including the user’s name, age and gender. As time passed, however, they found this information was mostly irrelevant. The real data that has allowed the company to market directly to you is coming from what you watch and search for, when you watch it, your positive and negative ratings of the content and even the type of device that you are watching from. Over the past 10 years, Netflix has been fine-tuning this system which now logs when we pause, rewind, fast-forward or abandon a show within the first few minutes.
Based on our viewing habits, the executives at Netflix have even made what some have considered a huge gamble, spending over $100 million to secure first rights on “House of Cards” (which premiered to streaming subscribers in February 2013). “We know what people watch on Netflix and we’re able with a high degree of confidence to understand how big a likely audience is for a given show based on people’s viewing habits,” Netflix communications director Jonathan Friedland told Wired in November 2012.
Before deciding to secure the rights to “House of Cards,” Netflix knew that the British version of the show had been well received, a lot of viewers that had watched the British version also watched a lot of content with Kevin Spacey, and many viewers had enjoyed the David Fincher directed movie “The Social Network.” The data told them that “House of Cards” would be successful.
They were so convinced that the series would be a huge hit with their viewers; they had not viewed a single scene of the show prior to ordering 2-full seasons (26 episodes). The series quickly became the most-watched content on Netflix following its debut. It was also estimated that as many as 25% of viewers “binged” (calorie-free, of course!) on the show and finished all 13 episodes in the first weekend of its release. David Fincher went on to win the Emmy for best director; a milestone as it marked the first win in a major category by an online video distributor.
Will Netflix’s data mining continue to predict the future of TV programming? Time will tell…all 13 episodes of season 2 of “House of Cards” premiered on February 14, 2014.
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