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For many Americans, Netflix has almost permanently replaced broadcast television thanks to a great selection of titles and addictive programming. The service, projected to reach almost 50 million subscribers all over the world by the end of June, has not only added numerous popular shows, but spawned several excellent original series that keep viewers craving more. However, Netflix’s secrets of binge watching go beyond just great entertainment, they delve into human psychology as well.
The company opened up its gates in 1999, offering on-demand DVDs delivered straight to a subscriber’s home. The convenience and cheap cost quickly made it a key player in the entertainment market, rapidly growing and expanding its movie selection and customer base. In 2007, however, Netflix started offering videos online, without the need to wait for any physical disc to arrive in the mail. Unsurprisingly, the new digital service has proven wildly popular, quickly overtaking the DVD version. The digital delivery, making videos available instantly, was just the first step in creating the new addictive watching experience.
Like many traditional TV networks, Netflix has also moved into creating its own original productions, available only via their service. This has once again turned out to be a home run for the company, with shows such as the intricate political drama House of Cards, or the prison and racial-themed Orange is the New Black. They also gave new life to old community favorites that were cancelled by other networks, such as Arrested Development. The exclusivity of these shows further drove new subscribers to try out and stick to the service.
However, great TV is just part of the success, and Netflix has a few secrets to creating dedicated binge watchers. The ratings and favorites systems not only helped the viewers narrow down their preferred content, but also gave Netflix the power to evaluate the viability of various shows. As a result, most reality programs have been scrapped from the service because of their poor performance. These techniques are just the tip of the iceberg, and the rabbit hole of user experience tracking goes further.
Like most customer-oriented businesses, Netflix uses a number of tracking metrics to establish not only what is watched, but also how it is watched. They can record all the plays, pauses, and fast forwards, potentially gaining insight into what parts of their shows lose their audience, and which parts get re-watched multiple times. This allows Netflix to curate their original productions to a perfect addictive formula, polished down to every minute of the show with deliberate ups and downs or cliffhangers.
Furthermore, many new mechanisms have been added to encourage extended watching. For example, the post-play feature suggests the next episode or a related movie while the credits roll, and will automatically start playing it if not otherwise stopped. Another change stems from accessibility. The new season of Orange is the New Black premiered with all the episodes available instantly, rather than spacing out one episode per week. Such practice embraces and encourages binge watching as well.
Netflix itself admitted in their own studies that binge watching has become the new norm. A majority of their interviewees, about 73 percent, defined binging as watching anywhere from two to six episodes in a row, without feeling any guilt about it. The same number also felt quite positive and accepting of the new trend. With this model, subscribers no longer need to wait a week for the new episode; they can watch whatever they want, whenever they want. Power to the people, as the saying goes. Moreover, such power, once again, feels psychologically rewarding to the individual.
With videos available instantly on-demand, Netflix (and other related services such as Hulu or HBO Go) has revolutionized the TV watching experience. It is becoming harder and harder to imagine going back to traditional television broadcasts at this point. It is worth remembering that half of the success is not just great entertainment, but the secrets Netflix developed to creating binge watchers from their subscribers. However, it is not necessarily bad if it does not get too excessive. After all, many popular movies go beyond the two-hour mark without anyone batting an eyelash.
By Jakub Kasztalski