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Netflix Loves Big Data, but Won't Use It to Make TV Shows (Video)

Better to just leave the talent alone, says CEO Reed Hastings.

Asa Mathat
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Netflix has more than 48 million subscribers, and it knows a ton about all of them: What they watch, when they watch, when they stop watching.

Netflix uses all of that data to help it pick and fund shows, like “House of Cards”, and to help promote different shows to different people. But it insists that it won’t use all of that Big Data to make shows.

Instead, CEO Reed Hastings says, Netflix leaves its talent alone. “If you have great creators, and you give ’em freedom, you can end up with an incredible product,” he said this week at the inaugural Code Conference.

The Netflix folks have made this point before, but it tends to get ignored when people tell stories about The Future Of TV. So I was glad we got Hastings to say it out loud.

Still, traditional TV-makers are already used to working with, or against, data, supplied in the form of test-screenings and ratings.

And even Netflix has had trouble resisting passing some information along to its talent. Hastings said he told “House of Cards” creator David Fincher that many viewers bailed on his show after the first few minutes of his first episode, when Kevin Spacey’s character kills a dog.

Fincher’s response: “Don’t ever tell me that again.”

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