Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Big Data, Soft Sell: Netflix Pitches a Hands-Off Approach to Hollywood

Hurwitz_Arnett

Here’s a narrative lots of people like right now: In the old days, the movie and TV guys had to guess about what kind of stuff you wanted to see. But Netflix doesn’t need to guess: It knows so much about your viewing habits that it knows exactly what you want, so it picks films and shows accordingly.

And now it’s using all of that Big Data to create stuff you want to see, using its analytics to shape the original videos it is funding.

Take that, William Goldman!

But if you’re a Hollywood creative person, that narrative wouldn’t sound nearly as appealing: You’re already used to getting tons of input and edicts from suits. Now Netflix is promising to up the ante by using computers, too?

Which is why Netflix is not selling that pitch to writers, directors and actors.

Instead, it is promising a hands-off — or mostly hands-off — approach: We’ll give you a bunch of money to go make something, and you go make it. And maybe we’ll offer some suggestions. (Which is the same approach, by the way, that networks like HBO and Showtime used to coax Hollywood talent for their originals for a long time.)

No need to take my word for it, though. You can hear it straight from the folks who are working with Netflix on the new stuff.

At our D: Dive Into Media conference last month, we had Mitch Hurwitz and Will Arnett, creator and star, respectively, of “Arrested Development,” onstage with Ted Sarandos, the Netflix executive who paid them to make a new season of the show. The whole segment is a bunch of fun, but if you want to hear about the input Sarandos did and didn’t have on “Arrested Development,” skip ahead to the 30:30 mark:


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus