Netflix pushes boundaries with 13 Reasons Why, teaches hackers a lesson, and overhauls its rating system

This week MTM’s mailer brings you a round-up of the recent news about Britain’s most popular paid-for video on demand service: Netflix.

Since its inception 19 years ago as a DVD sales and rental service, Netflix has come a long way in its quest for global dominance – it is now available in every major international market except China. Two weeks ago, the streaming service announced that its subscriber base now reached 100m; a triumphant milestone that was celebrated rather humbly by Netflix’s CEO Rees Hastings.

But a growing subscriber base is just one of several developments that have earned Netflix a place in recent headlines:

Everyone is talking about 13 Reasons Why

While it doesn’t release ratings, data suggesting that 13 Reasons Why is the most tweeted about programme of 2017 is a testament to the attention Netflix’s latest original series is generating. Reactions have been mixed, with some raising concerns about its depiction of teen suicide. In the UK there are strict guidelines set by regulators such as Ofcom around how suicide is depicted on screen. But, while it’s able to broadcast its programmes in the UK, Netflix isn’t subject to these UK media regulations. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Brian Yorkey, who adapted the series for Netflix, claimed that this lack of regulation gave him a unique platform to “look unflinchingly at some of the really difficult things that teenagers actually go through and show them a little bit more unvarnished than other shows have had the opportunity to do”. Reacting to the controversy sparked by the programme’s release, Netflix have now altered its advisory messages and added a new warning card before the first episode.

Hackers bite off more than they can chew

Last week it was reported that the new season of Netflix’s prized series Orange is the New Black (originally scheduled to be released in June) had been stolen from a post-production studio by a hacker. The theft appeared to be financially motivated: when the attempts to get Netflix pay a ransom failed, 10 episodes were published online. The hacking incident, which is being investigated by the FBI, highlights a major problem for companies when it comes to cyber-security. Specifically, even if they take every precaution to secure their own systems from hackers, they are only ever as secure as their ‘weakest link’ (in this case, an outside vendor). As for Netflix, whilst the hack undoubtedly represents a substantial headache for the company,  commentators argue that it most certainly won’t make or break Netflix and that the actual number of people who will go on to download the leaked episodes is so small it doesn’t warrant any negotiation with the hackers. What’s more, simply by not paying up, Netflix sent an important message – stealing and releasing shows early doesn’t pay off.

Star ratings get a thumbs down

Finally, after testing an alternative rating method with hundreds of thousands of subscribers last year, Netflix has made a decision to overhaul its rating system by replacing stars with thumbs. According to Netflix’s vice president of product Todd Yellin, the star-rating system felt “very yesterday” and that a simple thumbs up/down binary rating will be much better at “bubbling up the stuff people actually want to watch”. Users will also now see a new percent match score against each show title, which Netflix claims is personalised for each subscriber and “is based on an individual member’s unique viewing patterns and habits”. The company also believes that the binary rating system will better reflect people’s true enjoyment of the show, whereas with the star system they would often try to assess the show’s objective worth rather than simply say how much they enjoyed it.

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If you would like to discuss any of the topics outlined above, or tell us whether the Netflix’s new rating system gets a thumbs up from you, do not hesitate to get in touch.

About Oksana Uustalu

Oksana Uustalu is a Senior Research Executive at MTM, working in the quantitative team. Her interests include consumer psychology, with a focus on how people make purchase decisions, and how emotions, attitudes and cognitive biases affect buying behaviour.