Understanding the Netflix algorithm and why 'Red Notice' is destined for success

·5-min read

NOVEMBER 20 ― With the pandemic providing Netflix with two years to consolidate their position as the leading force in the world of streaming, I think it’s pretty safe to say that by now most people would’ve already figured out how Netflix works in terms of their programming choices, especially with their original series or movies.

Guided by data collected from subscribers’ viewing patterns, its complex algorithms can correctly anticipate what type of content, combined with which actors/directors will work and what will not, according to the target audience.

In fact, this was how Netflix first made its mark with its first big hit House Of Cards, in which they deduced that, thanks to “Big Data”, that fans of the original UK series House Of Cards were also watching movies that starred Kevin Spacey and those that were directed by David Fincher.

And so, with this knowledge in mind, it committed to two seasons of the show, reportedly bidding US$100 million or RM418 million (which works out to around US$3.8 million per episode), and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s with this type of knowledge as well that it signed Adam Sandler to do four more movies for the platform, in a deal reportedly worth US$275 million (RM1.15 billion).

This is because according to Netflix, its subscribers had spent two billion hours on the platform watching Sandler movies since 2015, with over 83 million households watching Murder Mystery in its first four weeks, making it the most-watched movie on Netflix in 2019.

Film critics and Sandler haters can say whatever they want about the quality of Sandler’s movies, but the facts and data show that he’s still a much-loved and valuable asset on Netflix, hence their continuing working relationship.

In short, there are two primary reasons behind Netflix’s programming ― one is obviously to encourage new signups (which is usually the target with their big budget, big name projects like House Of Cards, Stranger Things and Bright which starred Will Smith) and the other, less glamorous one, is to encourage people to keep subscribing (which is where the Sandler movies come in, and their steady slate of rom-coms).

And so, it’s with this knowledge in mind that we should also approach the types of movies/series that we watch on Netflix and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Even in the animal kingdom there are predators, prey and even creatures in the lower rungs of the ecosystem (like ants) doing exactly what they need to do to keep things running.

Where in the ecosystem, then, does Netflix’s latest original film Red Notice belong? Reportedly already one of Netflix’s most-watched titles of the year, with 148.72 million hours of views worldwide from November 8-14, it was also the number 1 movie on Netflix in 90 countries, making it the platform’s best opening weekend ever.

In fact, it was so successful that Netflix reported that fans of The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) then went on to spend 6.76 million hours watching Jumanji: The Next Level, taking it to number 10 on the Netflix charts.

Despite it catching quite a bit of flak on social media for its quality (or lack of) relative to its huge budget (reportedly US$200 million), clearly the Netflix algorithm has struck gold once again when combining the talents of The Rock, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds and director Rawson Marshall Thurber (who was responsible for mainstream comedy gold like Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, We’re The Millers and The Rock vehicles like Skyscraper and Central Intelligence).

Cast member and producer Dwayne Johnson attends the premiere for the film ‘Red Notice’ in Los Angeles, California, US, November 3, 2021. — Reuters pic
Cast member and producer Dwayne Johnson attends the premiere for the film ‘Red Notice’ in Los Angeles, California, US, November 3, 2021. — Reuters pic

The project originated at Universal, before the studio got cold feet and Netflix took over and put up the US$200 million budget, surely confident in the knowledge that its algorithm had predicted that the ingredients therein are very likely a recipe for success, especially when viewers do not need to fork out extra cash to watch it, and which will probably encourage them to stay subscribed to the platform, safe in the knowledge that big, appealing projects like this will continue to happen in the future.

Unlike studio executives trying to guess things by playing the “star power” game, randomly gathering big names together in movies in the hopes of landing one that sticks, my guess is that the Netflix algorithm knew where the overlapping points are for the appeal of these stars and the films of the director, and that this film’s formula ― a conman heist action comedy that plays a bit like Indiana Jones meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels filtered through the new Jumanji movies meets The Hitman’s Bodyguard movies) ― will guarantee an enjoyable movie night on the living room couch.

To be honest, even I found it enjoyable enough to breezily watch it from beginning to end, to the point that I wouldn’t even mind watching a sequel, as teased during the movie’s ending, because, just like the fluffy/sweet stuff that we wish we didn’t enjoy so much for dessert (because, you know, it’s bad for your health), every once in a while, we honestly do enjoy consuming them.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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