Netflix the Puppeteer

The amount of data Netflix has access to is overwhelming, but building a picture of the average user does not allow for the intricacies of human interest.

“How Netflix is turning viewers into puppets” was written in 2013 by technology journalist Andrew Leonard. The article addresses the Big Data accumulated by Netflix on the ways in which users interact with the service. Netflix utilised this data to develop a show that they knew would attract a number of viewers, banking on the previous success of the star Kevin Spacey, and the director David Fincher to create House of Cards Forbes attributes this turn towards utilising Big Data to the “new entertainment battlefield” in which competition for users attention is fierce. Additionally, the amount of data they are receiving is only increasing as Netflix is reaching even more countries  changing the way that Netflix appeals to a wide variety of audiences. As Leonard predicted, Netflix did well with creating a show that people would enjoy as much as any program that was traditionally developed. Since this article was written in 2013, a number of original Netflix shows such as Orange is the New Black have done very wel, but are still just one part of the entertainment industry.  

Leonard writes scathingly of Netflix’s domination of the entertainment industry, claiming the streaming service “will be able to craft techniques that push us toward where they want us to go, rather than where we would go by ourselves if left to our own devices”. The argument he sets forth is well laid out as it explores every aspect of the data that Netflix has access to. However, Leonard seems to ignore the individualisation of Netflix users. For the thousands that watched and enjoyed House of Cards, there are thousands that have no interest in the show. Around the same time House of Cards was created, Amazon were also attempting to use Big Data to create a hit show but were not as successful as Netflix because they did not take users preferences into consideration. It is for this reason that we will not become puppets, and there will never be a show that every Netflix user enjoys. There are people who seek out unique shows, there is a market for what is niche. Assuming that we will all become Netflix “puppets” ignores human agency just as much as the company he is speaking out against. Netflix can lead its users to House of Cards, but they cannot make them watch it.

One Reply to “Netflix the Puppeteer”

  1. I talked about this in class at some point, but I do think it’s important to reiterate that using the data does not mean finding the perfect average. The data can also be used to identify little tiny niches, and to form a picture of every conceivable niche that an individual might belong to. Catering to individuals is just as easy as catering to the masses with Big Data…

Leave a Reply