One Showrunner Actually Figured Out How To Hack Netflix’s Algorithm

One Showrunner Actually Figured Out How To Hack Netflix’s Algorithm

When you log into Netflix, one of the first things you see is a list of recommended shows. Sometimes its new episodes of shows you’ve liked and rated well. Often, it’s a whole myriad of shows you’ve never heard of or are only tangentially aware of. And if you’re using American Netflix, one of those shows that Netflix repeatedly suggests you watch is Anders Tangen’s Norsemen, a silly little sitcom revolving around ancient Vikings with seemingly modern problems.

There’s a reason Netflix suggests Norsemen even when there’s a new season of Derry Girls or She-Ra you’d like to be watching. Tangen figured out how to take advantage of Netflix’s recommendation algorithm.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter Tanger revealed why he felt it was necessary and exactly how he did it. “You can’t blame Netflix,” Tangen told THR, “They have so many shows, they can’t market everything.”

Which is something we’ve seen again and again. Netflix produces and/or has the exclusive U.S. digital distribution rights to hundreds of shows. New ones premiere every week and oftentimes don’t have very long to prove their worth to the streaming service. Cancellations are common — even for shows with big buzz, award recognition, or well-respected creators from marginalised communities. Sense8, The OA, and Tuca & Bertie were all well-received shows with critical praise, established audiences, and a significant outcry following their cancellations.

According to Deadline the nature of Netflix’s contracts frequently means its impossible for even a popular Netflix show to get picked up elsewhere after cancellation. Netflix will reportedly maintain exclusive streaming rights to shows for two to seven years after the premiere — killing the chance at a show being picked up by another streaming service (that’s the reason Daredevil and Jessica Jones won’t be on Disney+ any time soon).

In some cases, like One Day at a Time, there might be a chance for a broadcast network to pick it up, but usually, once Netflix kills a show, it’s done.

Norsemen, a Norwegian comedy that originally aired on NRK1, may have had a little success by being picked up by Netflix for U.S. digital distribution, but without success, later seasons wouldn’t be in trouble. Knowing Netflix wouldn’t be putting much, if any effort, into publicising his show Tangen took it upon himself and crafted a super-focused Facebook campaign to build a following for the show ahead of it’s Netflix premiere.

Tanger spent approximately $US18,500 ($27,179) on a campaign focused on big cities like LA, New York, Chicago, and Miami, and on three states he knew to have a large Norwegian population (South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) that might be interested in some Viking comedy.

With just 6000 followers on Facebook and 2 million views of scenes cut and distributed to over 5 million Facebook users, Norsemen had done it. It had created enough buzz, to enter the recommendation carousel, which Netflix once claimed drives approximately 75 per cent of Netflix viewing.

“Three weeks after we launched, Netflix called me: ‘You need to come to L.A., your show is exploding,’” Tangen told THR.

I still haven’t watched the show, but checking Netflix just now I noticed Norsemen was still there, a steady cycle of views keeping it in the carousel for the last two seasons (after the success of season 1 on Netflix it was made a “Netflix Original” which for shows produced elsewhere usually just means more marketing from Netflix itself).

Tangen said the lesson here is “[y]ou can’t wait around for Netflix or anyone else to promote your show. It’s up to you to create the buzz.”

That’s something many cancelled Netflix shows would have appreciated knowing, and others could take note of for future launches. It’s also something for rank and file fans to notice. Because if you can get a show enough buzz maybe it can make it onto the carousel and, at least for a season, have a respite from the cancellation ax.