Netflix knows exactly how (and when) we get hooked on TV shows

Netflix analyzed data from its 65 million users to determine exactly when viewers get hooked on shows. It's not the pilot episode: Netflix's data says it takes between two and eight episodes for people to commit to watching the rest of a season.

Rich Fury/AP/File
Netflix analyzed data to determine the exact point at which viewers become hooked on particular TV shows. Here, Jane Krakowski, one of the stars of Netflix's original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, arrives at a Q&A screening in West Hollywood on June 7, 2015.

There’s a certain point when you know you’re committed to watching an entire TV show – binging a whole season in one sitting, or at least watching several episodes a day until you finish the series. Netflix has been analyzing data from its more than 65 million active users, and it knows exactly at what point we get hooked on shows.

“A series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, said in a press release on Wednesday. “However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot.” Instead, the moment a viewer becomes hooked happens somewhere between the second and eighth episode of a series. The trend holds true for network shows as well as Netflix originals such as "House of Cards," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," and "Orange is the New Black."

Netflix found that 70 percent of viewers who watched the “hooked” episode went on to complete at least the rest of the show’s first season, though not necessarily in a single sitting. “When commercial breaks and appointment viewing are stripped away and consumers can watch an entire season as they choose, you can see fandom emerge,” Netflix said in the press release.

Netflix says this analysis justifies its strategy of releasing entire seasons of shows all at once, rather than following the more traditional model of dropping one episode each week. That model puts too much stress on pilot episodes, Mr. Sarandos said, and because it takes a few episodes for viewers to get hooked, releasing a whole season at once is more likely to allow the series to attract fans. In other words, Netflix wants to make it as easy as possible for people to get to the hooked episode.

Buzzfeed’s Brendan Klinkenberg compiled a list of the hooked episodes for the 20 shows studied in the Netflix report. The shows that viewers got hooked on most quickly were "Bates Motel," "Breaking Bad," "Scandal," "Sons of Anarchy," "Suits," "The Killing," and "The Walking Dead" – after watching the second episode of each, 70 percent of viewers went on to watch the rest of the first season. "Arrow" and "How I Met Your Mother" took longest to get to that point, with viewers getting hooked after the eighth episode.

Netflix was careful to point out that the data revealed slight geographic differences (for example, viewers from Australia and New Zealand got hooked one or two episodes later than viewers in other parts of the world on almost every episode) and that hooked episodes didn’t correlate with a show’s total viewership. Still, now that Netflix knows exactly when viewers get hooked on series, it’ll be able to take those factors into account in its new productions – and make them even easier to binge on.

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