Netflix: Humans, not machines, greenlight our shows

Netflix exec Cindy Holland has said it is “humans” and not machines making commissioning decisions and that the SVOD is judicious about evaluating viewership following a programme launch.

The 17-year Netflix exec, who serves as VP of original content, said that while the business “doesn’t have to think” about ratings to the extent of networks, the SVOD “absolutely” checks the performance of a show the day after a worldwide launch.

Holland was speaking as part of Keshet’s INTV Conference in Jerusalem, interviewed by Keshet boss Avi Nir – a wide-ranging conversation that covered everything from Netflix’s curation model and top shows to Holland’s biking hobby.

Asked whether it is “man or machine” making decisions at Netflix, Holland quipped that, today, it is “more likely to be a woman”.

“Humans are making the decisions about what we choose to invest in, but we’re aided by the info we have,” she said, noting that the business’s notorious algorithms, or ‘projection model’, simply help to “set parameters” around greenlights.

“It would be foolish not to use it. It helps us really spot areas of opportunity and helps us when we’re looking to make a decision about a specific title, helps us size up what that audience size might be, and what we might want to invest.

“Like any other endeavor, it helps us determine if it’s a great idea, whether it could return, and if we believe in the creative team to execute the idea.”

Holland said that, much like broadcasters, a 28-day window following a premiere generally helps the business determine the level of success on the platform.

The exec oversees English-language content for the service, and will now work alongside Bela Bajaria, who was recently handed oversight of non-English language originals following Erik Barmack’s exit.

Commissioning power

Holland pointed out that the best way to “support” the volume of content emerging from Netflix has been not to “bottleneck decision-making at the top”, suggesting that commissioning power may be more decentralised in the future, rather than coming solely out of Los Angeles.

It would mark a key strategy shift for when execs such as former Sky drama boss Anne Mensah, for example, gets situated out of Netflix UK in May.

“There are dozens of people who have greenlight and licensing power for all the different kinds of content we commission and have on our service,” she said.

“What we try and do is build a culture of freedom and responsibility to delegate that responsibility as far down as we can.”

Holland said Netflix doesn’t look to “dictate notes or solutions” to creative teams.

The exec also made pains to distinguish Netflix from “large tech companies” such as Facebook and Google, which she described as “uncurated platforms”.

Elsewhere, Holland lifted the lid on its recent greenlight of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The show is exec produced by García Márquez’s sons Rodrigo Garcia and Gonzalo García Barcha, and marks the first TV adaptation of the novel, which was first published in 1967.

“The reason the family was interested in us was because we wanted to make it in Spanish and didn’t we want to squish into a movie,” said Holland, adding that the platform managed to win the family’s trust.

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