Something is changing. In February, Netflix broke all streaming records with its original series, House of Cards. They’ve touted their reliance on consumer “data” for their selection of the director, David Fincher, the star, Kevin Spacey, and even the choice of the project itself. Netflix said it knew House of Cards would succeed even before it premiered and, well, they were right. Amazon has announced that they will be choosing their new shows based in part on their proprietary online method of testing pilots with their vast consumer fan base. And, today, I was in a meeting with YouTube and I asked them how they would be promoting their new shows and channels. I was told that, as a Google-owned company, they rely mostly on algorithms because “We think algorithms are more reliable than people when it comes to picking what shows our viewers will like.”
Hello, science. As someone who failed chemistry in high school, you would think that I would be opposed to this seismic shift in how shows are made, picked and marketed. But I am not. I am excited. Like many of you, I have long marveled at how fickle and arbitrary the show selection process seems to be at the networks. In most cases, buyers simply choose whatever shows they like personally, not unlike buying a pair of shoes. At a few networks, there is a nod to science but the old school focus groups most of us have attended simply can’t compare with the deep analysis of consumer preferences and viewing habits available to companies like Netflix, Amazon and Google. These folks have direct knowledge of almost every piece of content we consume and every word we search. They know what films we streamed last night and they know who our friends are. In many ways, they know us better then we know ourselves. Personally, I’m quite curious to see what kinds of programs they will buy, make and distribute. The fact is Big Brother is here, he’s nice, and he’s commissioning shows.
A friend of mine asked me, “But won’t the networks simply migrate over to the online space and dominate it the way they have dominated the broadcast space?” I don’t think they will. They are simply too far behind. Most of them seem happy to just license their content to the major VOD and SVOD services. And even though Disney is a co-owner of Hulu, they’ve hit an impasse with one of the other owners, NewsCorp, over the future direction of that service.
So, what does all this have to do with a small and scrappy indie like me? Well, it doesn’t take a scientist to know that the one thing that all of these nascent digital content providers need is, well, content. Once the dust settles from all of the kids’ TV library deals that are now being inked, it will become apparent that children don’t actually want to watch old shows. They want to watch new shows. Which means, simply, more original shows will be commissioned to fill the growing needs of these exciting new platforms. Ergo, this is a good time to be an indie.
Long live science.