Can you guess how many episodes the average binge-watcher consumes during a TV streaming session and a losing battle with the remote control?
The answer, along with other illuminating facts, emerges from a revealing chat with Joris Evers, Netflix’s Head of Communications, Europe, who speaks to HuffPostUK on the phone WHILE cycling home from his office in Amsterdam. Multi-taskers, the Dutch.
In the course of the next 30 minutes, Joris explains that we have nothing to fear from Netflix’s all-powerful algorithms,
When it was launched in 1999, Netflix was your typical DVD library, busy posting discs to subscribers across the US. In 16 short years, it has become one of the world’s primary sources of quality streamed TV content to more than 57 million subscribers, now operating in more than 50 countries, with hopes of being global, “wherever legal”, by the end of next year.
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The key to its success, Joris explains, is the technology behind a PERSONALISED CHANNEL, a unique viewing bubble for each subscriber that comes with recommendations for similar viewing. “If you liked this, you’ll love, etc” “We don’t have a Netflix kind of show,” claims Joris. “There are many different titles covering the mix. We’ve got a great team in Hollywood choosing content, scouring the world, commissioning content, and another great team in Silicon Valley with the technical know-how, finding the audiences for something very niche, people who would not see them otherwise.”
Joris makes the good point that documentaries like ‘Virunga’ and ‘The Square’ before it might not have reached the requisite eyeballs without appearing on the Netflix platform, and both ended up with Oscar nominations.
Isn’t there the risk, though, that with such sophisticated algorithms whittling down a viewer’s menu, Netflix will end up restricting personal taste, if not dictating it?
“We fell into that trap,” acknowledges Joris. “We thought two violent thrillers in a row meant summed up a person’s taste, and it’s the difference between exploiting and exploring.
“Now we look at things on the edge of what you’re watching. We factor in serendipity.”
Where is it all going? Joris calmly sounds the death knell for many a broadcast transmission suite, claiming, “All TV will be on the internet in the next 15 years, even if it’s still being watched on a TV set.
“We expect the internet will be carrying all the TV watched. Traditional broadcasters will go away, replaced by the internet, while the infrastructural space currently used by today’s broadcasters will only add or augment the internet.
“Current broadcasters will move onto the internet as well or disappear. Many more internet networks will be popping up, and then it will be about who offers the best programming.”
Does this leave room for any linear channel to operate? Joris is sanguine. “We think they will mostly go on the internet, although there may be some space for a linear channel, so that people can still enjoy watching events at the same time, for example, competition shows, sporting events.” Phew, there was us thinking it was all change…
One restriction Netflix is determined to bat away is the issue of regional licensing, which current restricts what viewers in each country get to watch. The company’s ultimate goal, Joris reveals, “a completely blank page of global licence – licensing programmes around the world for the world”.
“It shouldn’t be important where you are, but what you enjoy watching,” he explains. “Instead of being restricted by the walls around your country, we could search instead for your NETWORK DOPPELGANGER somewhere around the world, find what they enjoy watching and make similar recommendations for you.
Netflix is not a company afraid of evolution. Just as its original mission as a poster of envelopes made way for streaming, now it’s just as famous for its original content as for anything it distributes. ‘House of Cards’ is the flagship enterprise, scooping Golden Globe Awards for its stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. ‘Orange is the New Black’ is another water-cooler-discussed triumph, with the next cab off the rank, ‘Bloodline’, boasting a premier cast of Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn. Meanwhile, Netflix is branching out into feature production, with the idea to launch the films in the cinema the same time as they appear online. “We only ever want to create choice, never restrict it,” Joris reminds me.
“There are definitely a lot of people in the business having a great time with all this extra TV being created,” he agrees, but he’s convinced they’re not the only winners.
“If you’re a TV viewer, you’re enjoying serialised drama, documentaries, comedy, you previously didn’t know about, or didn’t have access to watch.”
With all these balls in the air, the one blot on the landscape that Netflix shares with its rivals and more traditional broadcasters is piracy. “People will always want stuff for free,” says Joris. “We need to be on the ball, continue to make our service better, and make sure we have great programming as an incentive for people to choose to pay. If you don’t frustrate consumers, perhaps they won’t turn to piracy.”
Oh, and the answer to my original question – how many episodes on average does a binge-watcher consume? “We have surmised it’s between 2 and 2.5 episodes in a row,” reveals Joris – which sounds pretty conservative when you factor in the ‘Breaking Bad’ brigade. “I am above average if my son’s asleep or my wife’s travelling,” he adds. “I’ve been known to get through five episodes of 'Homeland'.”