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For the last 2 weeks, I’ve been rescuing countless friends from their couches, dragging them out and reintroducing them to the real world- sometimes with Doritos crumbs still stuck to their shirt. During many of these instances, I had to equip myself with extra mint gum and fresh sticks of deodorant because the fermented stench of nacho cheese breath and rampant B.O. (marinated for days) had become overwhelming. The task wasn’t simple, but rehabilitation is important.

Netflix recently launched the second season of House of Cards and, like many other twentysomethings, my friends fell victim to the dreaded “Netflix Binge.”

sketch3(courtesy of Kiersten Essenpreis)

For those who are lucky enough to have not heard about or experienced the Netflix Binge, consider yourself lucky. Netflix Binge describes a special form of binge-watching in which the addict watches television shows on Netflix for extended periods of time.

Typically, bingers don’t sit down to watch a Netflix show with the intention of not stopping. However, when a show like House of Cards becomes too good, wrapping viewers in exactly what they crave (drama, plot twists, sexy characters, oh my), some people can’t stop. The problem arises when one or two episodes becomes all thirteen episodes… and you’ve created a makeshift toilet- Carnival Cruise style next to your living room couch, because the bathroom is just “too far.”

Now I know what you are thinking, “Why not write about the tragedies of the 1st world on your personal blog? Why write about this epidemic on Tresata’s website, Eileen?” Well guys, I don’t have my own blog and also…Big Data.

Many TV watchers are not aware that Big Data is a leading contributor to America’s need to binge. By leveraging Big Data, Netflix has been able to offer exactly the kind of shows that audiences crave, tempting too many to binge-watch. For the doubters, let me break down how Big Data changes the way we consume TV:

1. Big Data = Information and Research 

The first part of Big Data is information and research. Smart companies who take advantage of big data are using all possible data sources to learn about and understand human desires and behavior. In addition to external data sources for customer behavior research (i.e. likes, pins, trends, etc), smart companies understand and take full leverage on the unique data they already own.

In this particular case, Netflix has been stalking us collecting data on their 29 million subscribers for years: knowing exactly what we are watching, when we are pausing, where we are accessing and how we are rating each show as it happens. Before snagging House of Cards, Netflix researchers found that many subscribers favored the juicy-juicy in the original BBC production, while user rankings and view count revealed favoritism towards Kevin Spacey and movies directed by David Fincher. Acquiring House of Cards was part of a larger well-thought-out plan to give audiences what they want. Big Data research told Netflix we would watch it; is it possible that big data also told Netflix we could binge it?

2. Big Data = Logic and Confidence

“Because we have a direct relationship with consumers, we know what people like to watch and that helps us understand how big the interest is going to be for a given show. It gave us some confidence that we could find an audience for a show like ‘House of Cards.’ That’s what Netflix’s chief communications officer had to say when approached on the topic of binge-watching and the role of House of Cards – no sympathy or apology for Netflix’s influence in the disease. Just confidence.

The confidence Netflix has for its featured programing and personalized recommendations is not unwarranted, but actually comes from a combination of algorithms applied to the (big) data they already have.

Because Netflix knows every time we pause or stop watching a show, they can pinpoint patterns to understand why a person has stopped watching. For example, if 74 percent of viewers stop watching show X after 30 minutes, then this data might indicate that audiences are not responding to the storyline and it should be changed. Knowing what your customer doesn’t want is just as good as knowing what they do want…which Netflix also has data on.

Netflix’s recommender uses your viewing and search history to find out what kind of movies or shows you might enjoy and recommends them to you… unfortunately or fortunately they haven’t been able to filter out all the shows viewers have already watched. (Shameless plug: Tresata’s Recommendation Engine does have filters for items based on what your customer has already bought or their personal preferences! Holla!)

3. Big Data = Personalized Reach

Sadly, no one is really safe from the Netflix Binge. As long as you have 8 dollars to spare monthly, you are vulnerable. Netflix is using big data for a personalized marketing approach – this means multiple trailers for different demographics…one for female viewers, another for Kevin Spacey fans and another for David Fincher devotees.

This personalized touch is not exactly Tresata’s mantra for segment of one marketing (there’s always room for improvement for any algorithm). However, it still uses big data to push their show towards as many markets as possible – making more viewers susceptible to “the binge.”

I’m not saying that Netflix is trying to promote binge -watching as I’m sure they care about the health of their customer, but you can’t deny their role in this widespread problem. By leveraging big data to conduct research on customers, produce a desirable product and deliver it with confidence, Netflix is changing the face of entertainment. But at what cost?  Our bodies and souls? We are in the age of big data and it has infiltrated its way into our entertainment industries.  The Netflix Binge is real.

Let me end this blog with a friendly PSA:

Binge watching is a serious issue. If you or anyone you know is thinking about participating in a House of Cards marathon, please remember to consume in moderation and pace episodes over a reasonable period of time. Food and sunlight are still important and essential to the human body and soul. Binging on an entire season of House of Cards or both seasons in less than 3 days can result in sleep deprivation, malnutrition and a disconnect from human reality. If you have a job, please go to it. If you have children, please feed them. Good luck Netflix watchers and we will get through this together.

…atleast until June, when Orange is the New Black returns with season two. God speed, y’all.

Additional Links:
New York Times Article: Giving Viewers What They Want

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