The following text explains how Netflix has transformed the way we consume entertainment. Much of its success is due to its commitment to Thick Data and the use of ethnography as a way of knowing and understanding its users. Want to know more about Thick Data? Check out our article What is Thick Data
Netflix does not require to be introduced by now. This platform has changed the entertainment industry, acting as both an online producer and distributor, with a shared subscription system that is able to compete with “illegal” downloading pages. Many of us have enjoyed the universes of Narcos, House of Cards or Sense8, and we have been disappointed with the new version of Death Note. With 89 million subscribers in 2016, there is no doubt that Netflix is a worldwide phenomenon.
The success of Netflix can be read in several keys. Undoubtedly, the quality of the contents and the possibility of obtaining a wide catalog of entertainment at a relatively low cost plays in favor of this audiovisual distribution model. But if there is something that makes Netflix different, is the company´s desire to understand better their users.
Thanks to its algorithms, it collects a vast amount of data that anticipates the type of movies that you would like to watch at a certain moment of the day, nourishing its famous system of recommendations. But there is also data that the algorithm cannot obtain. Of course, I am talking about qualitative and contextual data, the Thick Data. Netflix also wanted to know “What do users eat while watching the series?”, “How do they behave?” “What kind of interactions do they have between them in this moment?”. This type of data could only be obtained in an experiential, almost intrusive way, coexisting with the users.
Being aware that relying only on Big Data creates distorted images of users/clients, Netflix opted for a Thick Data perspective and contacted a well-known anthropologist, Grant McCraken. McCraken lived with Netflix users around the world, building ethnographic knowledge about changes in viewers patterns, domestic culture, and offline relationships. While Netflix algorithms pointed to how we interacted with the platform, McCraken concentrated on writing the full experience, gaining an enormous amount of contextual data and new lines of innovation.
McCraken’s research was a huge success and has been widely disseminated. Thanks to its field work, Netflix has transformed the way we consume audiovisual content. In his research, McCraken discovered that users liked to watch chapter after chapter of the same series, the famous “binging”. One would think that after doing this, the users would feel “bad” to spend hours and hours in front of the TV but … They loved it!
And Netflix said … “Wow, this is new.”
The rest of the story is already known. Netflix began to offer its peculiar model of distribution of series, where instead of premiering a chapter weekly (as in HBO) , the whole season was released at once. This had a real impact in the way users watched Netflix and how they experienced their relationship with the brand.
This new way of consuming, the so called binging has created new patterns of behavior and socialization. A good example of this is the Netflix and Chill phenomenon, converted into an expression that is already a cultural milestone among young Americans. Netflix and Chill has become a code for casual sex, replacing the famous “Do you want to come up for some coffee?”. The platform has been able to transform an emic concept (take a coffee = sex), integrating their brand in a wider space than just entertainment. The new locution already represents a form of socialization, and that has left us videos like this:
The case of Netflix illustrates how Thick Data improved, not only Netflix results, but through ethnography discovered a new form of consumption focused on what users really wanted. Data that would hardly have been traceable through Big Data, qualitative and contextual, based on the paradigm of user centered design and the use of ethnography as an indispensable tool for the knowledge of human cultures.
Once again, anthropology is seen as a discipline capable of bringing real value and focusing innovation on people. In a world so volatile, where correct (or incorrect) data collection can determine the future of companies and organisms, it would be illogical to think that anthropology, the discipline of Thick Data, had no future.
And, now you know, every time a marathon gets out of hand … it’s McCraken’s fault!
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS
The case of an ornamental anthropologist: How Netflix put a human face on Big Data