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Week In Review: Netflix, Data And The Problem With Turning Art Into A Science; The Meeker Report Is Good For Your Reports

1. Netflix, Data And The Problem With Turning Art Into A Science

Way back in what now seems like a different era, Netflix launched their second original series, House of Cards. (For those keeping track, Lillyhammer was actually their first.) Once the series appeared to be a hit (and we say “appeared” as Netflix has never divulged ratings) the company made a big deal about how they had used their ace analytics capabilities to determine that a political drama would be of great interest to their users.

Much of the media swallowed that hook, line and sinker, while those of us in the know noted that it was perhaps a little too coincidental that David Fincher happened to have been pushing the remake of a well-received UK political drama that had a name star (Kevin Spacey) attached to it and strong interest from HBO .. right at the same time Netflix’s data showed them that such a series would be a wise first move. Hmmmm ….

Netflix had success with several of their next outings—Orange Is The New Black and Narcos … and then they didn’t. Marco Polo, their big international offering was a big international flop. The Get Down, Baz Lurmann’s series on the birth of hip hop debuted to mixed reviews and was not renewed for another season, along with Sens8, the Wachowski’s sci fi series and four others.

So much for data, right?

Or, as Reed Hastings told the Code Conference “We have to take more risk. You have to try more crazy things. Because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”

Why It Matters

TV has a very high fail rate. Most series don’t make it. Data can only go so far in predicting hits: think of the number of movies and TV shows with all-star casts and top notch directors, based on best-selling novels, that tanked for reasons unknown. TV is still an art, not a science, and like all art, it’s impossible to predict whether the final product will resonate .

That, and lightening rarely, if ever, strikes twice: no matter how many times a series is pitched as “the next Friends”, “the next Lost”, or “the next Sopranos” it’s highly unlikely it will ever come close.

The fact that most shows fails is an important lesson, one that Netflix seems to be learning and one that Facebook is going to have to learn too, if it hopes to create a successful TV platform.

The solution is exactly as Reed Hastings states: taking more risk, being okay with more failures. And while Silicon Valley is built on the theory that failure is the best learning experience, having it play out so publicly, on such a large national stage, is something that tech companies who venture into TVland need to learn to be comfortable with.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a network, studio or other producer, you already know what to do: keep taking risks and don’t be afraid to trust your gut. You can use data for guidance, but always remember you’re making art, not science, and as such, you need to make decisions that stay true to your vision, not your spreadsheet.

2. The Meeker Report Is Good For Your Reports

Mary Meeker’s annual report came out this week and, in what could easily be an episode of Silicon Valley, the greater media industry was tripping over itself to proclaim the greatness and brilliance and (particularly) unexpectedness of its insights.

This continually baffles us.

Meeker’s report is very well done and an excellent source of data around the changing media landscape. We use it frequently in reports.

But that’s about it. If you’ve been paying attention to the media landscape in any way, shape or form, the report is just a confirmation of everything you already knew. In the Year of Alexa, is it really a surprise that the use of voice commands is on the rise? Or that China, with one billion people, is the largest market for video games?

Why It Matters

One of the things we (we at TV[R]EV and our readers) often forget is how the things we take for granted are often still news to other people. Not everyone in the industry has the time or inclination to keep up with what’s going on. That doesn’t make them bad at their jobs, but it does create opportunities for those who can understand and interpret the latest trends and issues.

What You Need To Do About It

Keep on reading TV[R]EV. And remember to cite the Meeker Report in your next project. Your clients will be very impressed by it.

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