How Netflix Uses Metadata To Assess TV Addiction

How Netflix Uses Metadata To Assess TV Addiction

Netflix knows what you are watching. It knows every TV show you’ve ever clicked on. As such, the company can predict which series you’ll become a fan of before you even realise yourself. Here is a breakdown of how Australian Netflix users become hopelessly addicted in the space of a few episodes.

With a constant stream of real-time audience data at its fingertips, Netflix’s research boffins have become experts at analysing TV binge-watching habits. They can even predict trends on a per-country basis.

According to Netflix’s analytics, the vast majority of users — more than 70 per cent — will watch an entire series of a TV show once they pass a certain number of episodes. This is the point where they essentially morph from casual viewer to committed fan. However, the tipping point is slightly different depending on the TV show and country.

As a general rule, Australians take longer to commit to a new series than the global average — we usually need to see one to two extra episodes before we become hooked. For example, the point at which most Aussies became fully invested in House of Cards was episode five, whereas the rest of the world became series converts from episode three. We’re not sure if this makes us discerning viewers or we just have shorter attention spans. It’s probably a little of both.

Here’s a look at how Australia’s viewing habits compare to the rest of the world, based on Netflix’s customer data:

Interestingly, the company found that no single show hooked the majority of viewers in after a single episode. Netflix would like its investors to believe that this proves its business model is superior to free-to-air television, with pilots becoming increasingly irrelevant to the modern TV landscape. In short, it’s better to offer all your episodes at once rather than hedge your bets on a single make-or-break episode.

“In our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot,” Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, explained in a statement. “This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made.”

On the other hand, maybe Netflix’s original content just lacks a “killer hook” such as the ones found in hits like Lost and Twin Peaks? There are plenty of examples of TV shows that became instant cultural phenomenons based on the strength of their maiden episode. It really all comes down to plot and what gets people talking.


Lifehacker’s Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.