Netflix took the big leap into premium television this weekend by releasing their first ever original series, “House of Cards,” by putting the entire first season on all at once. Netflix believes that viewers tend to digest shows in large lumps and that their new series should be digested all 13 episodes in a row, or as close to it as your body can handle before your brain shuts it all down and forces you to sleep. The show was created by Netflix doing a lot of careful research into their subscriber base and using complicated algorithms to assure that the show never varies from their findings to keep users engaged.
Whether you knew it or not, Netflix has been keeping track of your every move; what you watch, when you watch it, how many episodes in a row, what actors you tend to like better, what directors you tend to like and even when you pause and for how long you pause. All of this information is taken and analyzed for them to create content to feed to you and target as best they can at their audiences. Crazy, right? Then again, here in the United States, our president, Barack Obama, won this last election by using the same sort of targeted campaigning, so it isn’t that odd.
If the show is a success or not is still yet-to-be-seen. There has been a lot of social media hype around it, sure, but if enough people are actually watching it and enjoying it is another thing. The writing for the show has seemed a little rough around the edges and everything feels very forced. The dialog is terse and the scenes are all incredibly fast cuts with nothing having much room to breathe, but according to Netflix, that is how most viewers like to be engaged.
Without a doubt, this technology should exist outside of just the realm of Netflix and I assume all of the major gaming platforms have similar abilities to monitor how users play games and what they tend to prefer or dislike. I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo look to do similar things with first-party titles in the future and try to keep users engaged by using algorithms as opposed to intuition.
But the truth is, I’d rather not see the rise of the algorithm in entertainment. In fact, as a writer myself, it downright scares me to death that we might soon see all of entertainment dominated by algorithms and that intuition and human emotion might be summed up by pools of data and trying to appeal to the average taste. That is no bueno. What I would like to see the gaming world take away from Netflix’s House of Cards is offering special content above and beyond the usual content that they offer.
In the case of Xbox Live, when you have a Gold membership there should be some sort of real benefit to having it other than the ability to play games online, which every other platform in the world offers for free. Netflix understands that they have subscribers and that if their content isn’t up to snuff then their subscribers will look elsewhere, so they decided to just create the content that their viewers were demanding. PlayStation Plus does an alright job with offering discounts, but at some point there has to be more inside of the premium subscription model. It Netflix can drop cash on this, so can Microsoft and Sony, as keeping your customers happy should be paramount.