How To Hack Netflix's Algorithms
These days, you can’t just sit back and wait for the network to do all the marketing and sales for you. The landscape is just too competitive with too many shows out there jostling for attention. You need to take matters into your own hands as producer Anders Tangen did with his satire ‘Norsemen’.
Knowing it would get lost in the hours upon hours of programming, Tangen launched his own marketing campaign. When Tangen sold Norsemen to Netflix a couple years ago, he knew he had a winning show. It is a period comedy about Vikings but with modern day issues – first world problems, if you will. One chieftain apologizes for his "fear-based leadership style," another hires a slave as his "creative director"
Although the show was well received by audiences, there was a problem. With so many shows on Netflix, its U.S. service alone has 1,700-plus TV series, how would a Norwegian Viking comedy get noticed, especially when Netflix doesn't traditionally provide a marketing push for acquisitions?
The key to landing on Netflix's radar, Tangen knew, would be to hack the recommendation algorithm so it would appear as a suggested viewing for people searching for new shows to watch. The idea was to get enough people interested in the show early and then get Netflix's advanced recommended engine to leverage that early momentum.
Netflix had given Tangen a date for the premiere of Norsemen in its English-language territories. Three weeks before launch, he set up a Facebook advertising campaign, paying for targeted posts and Facebook promotions. The post were fairly straightforward — most included one of six 20- to 25-second clips of the show and a link, either to the show's webpage or to media coverage.
They used A/B testing — showing two versions of a campaign to different audiences and selecting the most successful — to fine-tune. The U.S. campaign cost around $18,500, which Tangen and his production partners put up themselves. Tangen focused the initial campaign in and around major U.S. cities including L.A., New York, Miami, Chicago with additional pushes in three states with large ethnic Norwegian populations. He broke potential Norsemen fans down into seven separate target groups, with each getting its own tailored Facebook campaign.
In just a month, the Norsemen campaign reached 5.5 million Facebook users, generating 2 million video views and some 6,000 followers for the show. Netflix noticed and its algorithm started to kick in. Fans who had become aware of the show through Tangen's campaign began recommending it to their friends. Norsemen started appearing on Netflix's recommendation list. Tangen invested a further $15,000 to promote the show on Facebook worldwide, using what he had learned during the initial U.S. campaign.
When Norsemen came up for a season two renewal, Netflix upped its commitment, making the show a "Netflix Original," meaning more in-house marketing. Season 3 is currently in production and will go out on Netflix worldwide next year. While it might take awhile for Tangen and his producers to recoup their $33,000 back, but it has certainly helped Norsemen and Tangen’s career.
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