Netflix and thrills: changing the viewing habits of a generation

Netflix is a phenomenon: it’s a media buzzword, a content generator, an internet meme and, of course, a rapidly expanding online streaming service. Alongside Spotify, it’s smashed prejudices about subscription services, and even won over a generation of piracy devotees.

With an average of four billion views per month, Netflix is surpassing many of the major TV networks in the US. Now expanding into a further 130 countries, Netflix won’t settle for being just a phenomenon. It’s going global. 

But how did a company that – in the UK, at least – was initially thought of as nothing more than the humble host of new Breaking Bad series, turn into the must-have in TV streaming?

Of course, Netflix surfed in on the wave of tablet and laptop viewing. Only 55 percent of millennials use a TV as their primary viewing device – in fact, it’s being ditched at a faster rate than ever before. Not only this, they have a big tendency towards binge viewing. Enter Netflix.



As we know, online content generally has a short shelf life. By constantly refreshing its offering, Netflix appeals to millennial viewers keen to have access to the latest releases and updates. These monthly updates are also lapped up by publishers, keen for a bit of clickbait; you know the ones – something like ‘10 films you can’t miss on Netflix this month’. By ingeniously releasing entire series at once, and with the famous ‘autoplay next episode’ feature, Netflix made a name for itself as the king of Sofa Sunday.

With each subscriber’s account, Netflix is also collecting huge amounts of customer data: how much browsing is done, what is watched, when it’s watched, and which moments are paused, rewinded and abandoned. In 2006, the Netflix prize offered $1 million dollars to whoever could come up with the best algorithm to predict what films someone would like based on their previous viewings. Netflix also pays people to rate films and give them special categories and tags, which explains why recommendations can often be a bit bizarre or niche – ‘anyone in the mood for a critically-acclaimed, visually-striking drama? No?’


This is also the data insight that informs the decisions Netflix makes as a content generator. When it made the huge decision to invest in the rights to produce House of Cards, for example, it had the data to support its decision. It knew many users’ viewing habits showed they liked work by Kevin Spacey, director David Fincher and had also watched the British version of House of Cards. This intel was essential to inform decisions Netflix made while producing the series. Data was even used to decide on the colour scheme behind the hero photography for the series. Two series were commissioned straight away – no pilot episode necessary.

It’s no small wonder that other Netflix series have also gone out to be so successful. Orange Is The New Black is upheld for its fresh approach to gender and race constructs. Master of None is similarly relatable for a whole new generation, as our strategy director Alistair noted here. Narcos and Making a Murderer are the more recent viral sensations – the latter with a very similar premise to the recent record-breaking podcast Serial.  


Yet it’s not only the Netflix programmes that have enjoyed viral success – Netflix itself has become a fond internet buzzword on its own. More specifically, the meme ‘Netflix and chill’ – synonymous with inviting someone over for casual sex – has become widespread and well loved. It is perhaps unsurprising that this was adopted at the same time as dating apps such as Tinder sliding into mainstream millennial culture too. The meme was welcomed so warmly that even Netflix got in on the act.

Named as the second best loved brand in America today, Netflix has shown astounding growth after being ranked as 96 in 2013. But with Amazon Prime hot on its tail, especially after stealing the show at the Golden Globes, the fight to become the number one streaming service will be a marathon, not a sprint.