Netflix Knows When You’re Hooked

Oh man, you guys. This is wonderful. Netflix has released the results of a study it did of when people get hooked on TV shows. They defined the “hooked episode” as the episode after which 70% of viewers went on to complete the first season of that show.

The big news from the study (which isn’t really all that surprising, intuitively):

“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.” –Ted Sarandos (emphasis mine)

So, why does this matter?

Continue reading

The Economics of Suspense

Fascinated by this New York Times article by Jeffrey Ely (Northwestern), Alexander Frankel and Emir Kamenica (Chicago Booth) about using economic theory to optimize entertainment:

“Once these concepts are formalized in this way, the question of how to maximize entertainment — that is, how to generate the most suspense or the most surprise — becomes a mathematical problem.”

Some lessons:

  • Information revealed over time generates drama through suspense (experienced before the fact) and surprise (experienced after the fact).
  • To be thrilling, you must occasionally be boring.
  • Mystery novels should have no more than three major plot twists on average, but the exact number of plot twists should be unpredictable.
  • Five- or seven- series games are optimal in sports, because it allows uncertainty about the eventual winner and allows for large swings in the likely outcome with each passing game.

“Academic analysis of the determinants of entertainment is in its infancy. Future work […] should help us better understand why we are moved by certain sports, novels and games. This might help us design better entertainment. More important, it will lead us to better understand the human psyche.”

I would love to read about these professors’ takes on how the results of their research can pair most effectively with experienced entertainment professionals’ intuition, but I guess that’s a question for another day!

Image courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

UnREAL: A Reality TV Producer’s Two Cents

This is how doctors must feel about Grey’s Anatomy.

I’ve been fielding questions about UnREAL, Lifetime’s new scripted series about a reality TV show, ever since its premiere. How realistic is it? Holy crap, is that what I do for a living? Do I love the show, or do I LOVE it?

For the uninitiated, UnREAL is about the behind-the-scenes machinations of Everlasting, a Bachelor-esque reality show. The protagonist Rachel is a producer who is amazing at the job she hates, which is essentially to manipulate the cast members into causing camera-worthy drama.

So, what exactly do I think about UnREAL? And what does it get right and wrong?

Continue reading

Courtney Kemp Agboh: Certified Badass

Just read this incredible interview with Courtney Kemp Agboh, the showrunner of Starz’s Power. (Full disclosure: I hadn’t seen Power before reading this interview, but I’m catching up now.)

I love how completely honest and no-bullshit this woman is, even about her vulnerabilities. Proof:

“My job isn’t to make great women; my job is to make a great fucking show so that the next time a woman wants to run her own show, somebody says, ‘Yeah, she can probably do it because that other bitch did it.'”

“There’s no leap [to showrunner]. There’s staff writer, and I worked my way up. The shows I worked on got canceled every year, and then I was on The Good Wife for three years, and the idea [for Power] started to come together and I pitched it. I had a couple more years in the wilderness and then they finally said yes. Slow and steady work. […] If you want to be a showrunner, you have to work your way all the way up.”

What did you learn from making season one of Power?
“I kind of know a little bit what I’m doing. That was a big revelation, because I had never done this before, and I learned that I could trust my own taste. I could trust my instincts. It didn’t mean I had all the experience or I knew everything, but I could trust myself some.”

Read more at Vulture, and watch Power on Starz (season 2 premiered on June 6 to record-setting ratings for Starz). The first episode is available for free online.

Image courtesy of Kurt Iswarienko / AP.

Ted Sarandos: Data, Judgment, Curation

“It is important to know which data to ignore […] In practice, it’s probably a seventy-thirty mix. Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment, but the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense.”

– Ted Sarandos (Chief Content Officer, Netflix)

As someone interested in the data-driven side of entertainment, I love hearing things like this. Yes, data is important — invaluable, really — to discover out what our audiences want to watch and how. But as important is judgment, or taste. So even in data-driven entertainment firms, it’s important to recruit leaders with a well-developed creative sense, as well as a mastery of analytics.

As Tim Wu puts it in his The New Yorker article about Sarandos:

“Perhaps what we are seeing here is better explained by the rise of a different kind of talent. It is a form of curation (at which Sarandos excels) whose aim is guessing not simply what will attract viewers but what will attract fans—people who will get excited enough to spread the word. Data may help, but what may matter more is a sense of what appeals to the hearts of obsessive people, and who can deliver that.”

Image courtesy of IndieWire.