'Norsemen' producer swayed Netflix's algorithm with targeted Facebook campaign

Dive Brief:

  • The producer of “Norsemen” claims he managed to get the comedy series into Netflix’s carousel of suggested shows — a key way get discovered on the streaming platform — with targeted Facebook advertising, according to a report in The Hollywood Reporter. The campaign helped to generate so much interest in “Norsemen” that Netflix’s software started to recommend the show to more viewers.
  • Showrunner Anders Tangen two years ago realized the way to get noticed among Netflix’s more than 1,700 TV series was to game the platform’s recommendation engine, which highlights shows based on viewing habits. Three weeks before the show’s U.S. premiere on Aug. 18, 2017, Tangen set up a campaign on Facebook to reach target audiences in major cities and in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota — states with big ethnic Norwegian populations, per the Reporter.
  • In the first 28 days, the campaign reached 5.5 million Facebook users and generated 2 million views of video clips from the show. The campaign cost $18,500 in the U.S., and Tangen spent another $15,000 to promote the show worldwide. Netflix renewed the show for a second season and branded it as a “Netflix Original,” which means it receives additional in-house promotion. A third season is currently in production.

Dive Insight:

Getting noticed on Netflix can be daunting for producers amid the platform’s massive library of TV shows and movies, offered in a mix of originals and re-runs from other networks. Tangen’s success promoting a comparably obscure show, whose Norwegian-language version first premiered on public broadcaster NRK in Norway, indicates that Netflix’s recommendation algorithm can be gamed with a low budgeted campaign and smart targeting of consumers outside of the ad-free streaming platform.

The strategy could become more popular as Netflix potentially gets more picky about what originals it chooses to fund and renew. More importantly, the campaign shows how marketers can use Facebook, which has detailed personal information about billions of people, to reach relevant audiences based on demographic and geographic data.

Netflix’s advertising tends to highlight hit shows like “Orange Is the New Black” or “Stranger Things” that generate social buzz or water-cooler chatter. The company’s global marketing budget expanded 65% to $2.37 billion in 2018 from the prior year, with most that spending directed at getting people to sign up for the service.

The company insists doesn’t plan to sell advertising — which would give producers a way to promote their shows among Netflix’s audience of more than 151.6 million — because of concerns about viewer satisfaction, per its quarterly report.

Netflix last quarter reported its first-ever decline in U.S. subscribers, blaming a weak lineup of new shows. The company faces its biggest threat from Disney, which last week announced the pricing for its upcoming Disney+ streaming platform. The media giant will launch the service at $6.99 a month, and will add in ESPN+ and Hulu for a total charge of $12.99, matching the price of Netflix’s basic high-definition service.

Netflix’s popularity has helped to drive the cord-cutting trend in the past decade, but the company will face significant challenges as studios and tech companies launch their own streaming platforms, while consumers limit their spending on video subscriptions.

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