Netflix mapped connections between what people watch to help scope out new shows

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Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, said one of the ways the company was able to lure screenwriter Ryan Murphy is by showing him how the intelligent use of data helps movies be much more successful.

Murphy, the creator of “Glee and “Nip/Tuck,” announced a $300 million deal with Netflix earlier this year. Sarandos said on Monday at the MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit that Netflix showed Murphy how it’s able to reach unsuspecting audiences.

“When Ryan came in, we showed him a lot,” said Sarandos. That included presenting him with a surprising overlap between “American Horror Story,” an anthology created by Murphy, and a comedy on Fox.

“You might guess, from a bunch of other shows, who might like ‘American Horror Story.’ I bet you wouldn’t guess that people who like ‘Bob’s Burgers’ like ‘American Horror Story,'” Sarandos said. “And it’s that thread of humor that he threads through all his stuff that actually gives us the ability to broaden his audience beyond a single network.”

Netflix data, Google trends and social media all help in determining logistics and budgeting, while the creative direction is still based on “believing in the storyteller,” he said.

In addition to predicting what types of audiences are most likely to watch and enjoy particular shows, the company can also broadly forecast how popular a film or series will be, said Sarandos.

Data “could raise our confidence that a show with a big budget could also reach a big audience,” he said. “Or the other could be true, too. We think this is a great show, but even in wild success it could reach this many people.”

Advertising-based businesses like Facebook have recently come under fire for allowing personal data to be used inappropriately. But Netflix CEO Reed Hastings — who is a member of Facebook’s board — recently said that Netflix sees itself more as a media company than a technology company.

“We’re very different from the ad-supported businesses, and we’ve always been very big on protecting all of our members’ viewing,” Hastings said last month.

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