It’s often based on the amount of viewers, how many episodes the average viewer makes it through, and how much it is being talked about on media outlets.
Netflix/hulu/shomi or all other good streaming services have an international database. It analyzes every movie and how many people watched it, and how many people rated it. The importance is more of public rating, rather than views. It also has an algorithm to group movies together for the “For You” section.
They look at details like:
- How many people watched it?
- How many people watched it right after signing up? (Assuming that the show is what motivated people to join)
- Did signup rates spike when the show was announced or became available?
- How many people watched it as soon as possible?
- How many people, after watching episode 1, went on to complete the season?
- How quickly did people binge the whole season?
- What did people rate it?
- Did the enthusiastic viewers (completed entire season, rated highly, and/or watched quickly) fit into a neat demographic (18-29 year old men who watch lots of scifi) or a broad one?
There’s one kind of surprising detail that Netflix and streaming services are looking for that traditional TV networks aren’t: enthusiasm.
With a traditional TV network, supported by ads, the only thing that matters is the number of viewers. The more viewers there are, the more valuable the ad slots are. 1000 viewers who say “eh it was mediocre” are preferable to 500 who say “I loved it.”
With Netflix, enthusiasm can matter more than overall viewership. 500 people who love a show are better than 1000 people who watched it without really caring. Because they’re not selling adtime, they’re selling subscriptions, and people won’t pay for a service that has ten mediocre shows but they will pay for a service that has their one alltime favourite. So Netflix’s metrics aren’t simple viewership rates (although obviously overall viewership matters) but also enthusiasm rates.
One area enthusiasm really matters is in demographic divide. In the TV industry, the goal is to have each show appeal as much as possible to the five key demographics (Males, Females, Teens, 18-49s, Seniors). When you pitch a show to a network you’re expected to identify the two you’re strong with (Breaking Bad: men 18-49, Pretty Little Liars: female teens) and then there are meetings on how to cater to the other 3. If you pitch an action series about street racing spies they’ll want you to add romance for female viewers, tone down the violence for teen viewers, put some 60s/70s rock in the soundtrack for older viewers, for example. The aim is for the show to be tolerable to everyone, even if those changes make it less appealing to the core demo. This is less about drawing old/teen/female viewers to the show and more about making sure that nothing in the TV schedule is so unappealing to anyone that they’ll turn it off, since people usually watch TV in multi-show blocks with other people.
Netflix’s goal is very different. It’s better for their business model to have shows that only appeal to individual demographics, but which evoke intense “I would pay $9/month for this show alone” enthusiasm. You create these shows by doing the opposite of what the TV networks do — you pick a demographic and focus solely on them.