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?

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MBA Intel Sessions: What I Learned

My last post was about setting up informational interviews with students and/or alumni from your target schools. I did a bunch of these intel sessions as I was applying, and I got great information not just about each school, but also about how to package myself as an applicant.

During my informational interview phase, I spoke to four students at UCLA Anderson, one Kellogg student, two Kellogg alums, a student at Indiana Kelley, a student at NYU Stern, and a student at Stanford GSB. Here is what I learned from them!

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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?

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Where Oh Where to Apply?

A really great Stacy Blackman e-mail popped into my inbox earlier this week. (Maybe it popped into yours too?) It was about figuring out where to apply — is it more important for you want an MBA from one particular school (Stanford or bust!), or just to get the MBA?

I decided to post highlights from that e-mail then figured, why not also share how I picked schools? That’s what MBA blogs are all about, right?

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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.

Produced by Conference 2015: MBA Application Takeaways

The Producers Guild of America held their annual Produced By Conference in Los Angeles last month. As a PGA member, I snagged a free ticket to attend the second day of the conference, where I met some new friends and attended sessions about pitching feature films, creating brand partnerships, Tyler Perry (and his empire), and (speaking of empires…) Empire.

As I went from session to session, I couldn’t help but think about how much content and advice would be valuable for MBA admissions. So here it is, hot off the presses (or cold off the notebook?). Get your Hollywood-approved admissions tips about pitching, passion, and more right here!

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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.

Natalie Portman: On Harvard and Impostor Syndrome

“I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”

“Sometimes, your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people’s expectations, standards or values. But you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.”

– Natalie Portman on attending Harvard

Read more at The Washington Post. Or at Forbes.

My Application Stats: Things Are Not Always As They Appear

If I were in your shoes, I’d want to know what kind of stats got a reality TV producer into business school. What does it take for a non-traditional applicant to compete? Do you need crazy scores? To start a non-profit saving orphaned penguins in Antarctica?

So in the interest of transparency and context, this is a post about my stats. But here’s the thing. When I was applying, I didn’t always find stats lists like this helpful. Of course the guy from Stanford with a 760 GMAT got into his dream school, you know?

I was so anxious about my applications and so concerned about my candidacy that I wanted to know what people saw as their big liabilities and how they dealt with them. I wanted the story behind the stats. So keep scrolling after my stats for the story behind mine! And remember, things are not always as they appear.

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