Engineering Emotion: Does Big Data Create Our Favorite Netflix Characters?
Marketing Content Strategy

Engineering Emotion: Does Big Data Create Our Favorite Netflix Characters?


Data, data, everywhere. Big data is, well, big. In March of this year, CloudTweaks estimated that at least 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced daily.

That’s this many bytes of data: 2,500,000,000,000,000,000.

With so much data zipping into the world every day, brands are clamoring to capture and understand it. They want to know how they can use it and how they can better serve the people whose data they’ve collected. Original storytellers, such as Netflix, are leading the data collection front.

Taking the Pulse of Binge WatchersTaking the Pulse of Binge Watchers

Netflix has been taking advantage of its immense data collection for years now, constantly checking the pulse of consumer sentiment and using these findings to inform original content creation that has garnered massive popularity—like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, among other popular TV series. It has compiled so much data that it refers to its collection process as the Netflix Quantum Theory, wherein every video on Netflix is microtagged according to a multitude of factors: the social acceptability of lead characters, movie location, the level romance within the show, and much, much more.

You might think that netting data from such a large pool is antithetical to personalization, but personalization is actually the point. With this data and accompanying algorithms, Netflix is able to deliver customized suggestions that are amazingly accurate. How did they know I love Mean Girls?

Okay, so Netflix can create personalized experiences for watchers around the world. But can great characters really be crafted from data? Characters, and the stories in which they live, are products of the creative mind, of synthesizing experience and imagination—we’ve known this to be true since the earliest creators on Earth. Can it be that they are the offspring of data, too?

According to Joris Evers, Vice President, Head of Communications for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Netflix, character creation is left to the creators. In a 2013 article published by The New York Times, Evers said, “We don’t get super-involved on the creative side. We hire the right people and give the freedom and budget to do good work.”

However, if executives and producers—the ones who have access to the data—are accurately predicting how successful a TV series will be, it’s possible that the line between executive and creative will begin to bleed. If original programming can be shaped exactly to fit consumers’ tastes, the clay of character and story creation may change hands, for better or worse. No, I don’t have big data to back that up.

Robots - Big Data - Data CollectionThe Big Data Bible

One thing that will always be true is that consumer sentiment changes. And as it does, brands like Netflix that rely on massive data collection will sway with that sentiment. With big data as the bible, will risk taking in creativity diminish? Will Netflix and others rely too much on viewer data?

At its best, data collection enables brands and their creators to create original stories that resonate with targeted audiences—it doesn’t allow them to cut and apply stories from the creativity cookie sheet.

But the amazing thing that Netflix has done is take big data (even if not applied directly to characters) and successfully produce creative content that millions crave—the antithesis of stock, the opposite of average. Francis Underwood’s assured southern accent lingers in the minds of millions long after the closing credits. We wonder: how can this man be so cruel?

Thinking of big data makes me think of the man versus machine debate, how humans are engineering their own demise by the steel fist of robots. The more data we collect, the more advanced our technology may become. The more data we collect, the closer stories may be delivered to our sense of emotion and our understanding of empathy.

Maybe big data and the machines will win after all, but if they do, one thing is certain: Until the bitter end, we’ll be collecting data on them in order to market an experience that’s as personal as possible.

Learn how to leverage the power of big data in your ongoing content marketing strategy.

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