One of the topics about Netflix's original programming that I find to be very important but lack in discussion is Netflix's use of big data in its original programming decisions. Netflix has always been a data-driven company as the Netflix Prize it launched in 2006 testifies. Netflix believes that with the help of big data it is able to understand what its users want and is making big bets on its original programming. Netflix's confidence in big data (which has been expressed by people at Netflix including Reed Hastings, the CEO, and Ted Sarandos, the Content Chief Officer) was well demonstrated when it outbid major cable companies such as HBO and AMC and secured the licensing rights of House of Cards, agreed to license new episodes of Arrested Development (a show that was cancelled by Fox in 2006), and ordered a second season of Orange is the New Black even before it made its debut.
Netflix willingly committed $100 million for 26 epsodes over 2 seasons of House of Cards without seeing a pilot of the show because it knew many of Netflix users were fans of David Fincher films, watched movies starring Kevin Spacey, and watched the original British version of House of Cards. So purchasing the rights to stream a US remake of the BBC show featuring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher made perfect sense for Netflix to start its original programming. Netflix also used big data to promote its original series differently to different types of Netflix users. Creating six different versions of trailers of House of Cards, Netflix presented a tailored cut to users based on their past viewing behavior.
As Netflix delves deeper into big data for original programming decisions the issue of what all the number crunching and data analytics would mean for creativity and originality in television production (and of course, the issue of privacy) will be debated. Will Netflix big data creativity bring more of the same stories to be told differently (after all, House of Cards is a remake of a BBC miniseries and Arrested Development is a reboot of Fox's cancelled show) and make us miss opportuntities to encounter new and different things as Andrew Leonard warns? Or will Netflix show us new possibilities of storytelling in the era of big data by proving a harmonious blend of algorithm and creativity through its original programming?