When Do Viewers Get Hooked? Netflix Study Offers Some Answers, More Questions

Do You Know When You Were Hooked?Image courtesy of Fast Company

When do viewers get hooked on a TV show? Is it the opening moments of the first episode or does it take an episode or two to really get a good obsession going? According to this recently released Netflix study, the magic moment is sometime during episode 4 of a series. This is contrary to the thinking of many of today’s network execs who are determining the fate of a new series based solely on the performance of its pilot episode. As the Fast Company article on Netflix’s findings notes:

“This debunking of the importance of the pilot is yet another cannon Netflix is firing at the traditional television paradigm. The notion that it may take several episodes for a show to gain traction is anathema at networks, where the clock starts to tick as soon as a pilot airs, and pressure is on to cancel any series that isn’t immediately performing.”

These are interesting results indeed (Netflix’s findings showed that 70% of viewers who watched up through episode 4 ended up watching the rest of the season) but it’s difficult to make universal conclusions about all new television series based on this, and the study brings up a whole new round of questions. For example: how are viewers impacted by having the whole series available to view on-demand (as in the case of Netflix) versus having to wait a week for the next episode to air (as in the case of network and cable series)? Could it be that viewers feel less invested in a series that they can watch on-demand so they’re willing to watch multiple episodes before making their decision? Also, what were the critical moments in the “hook” episode that drove viewers’ decision to keep watching until the end of the season?

The Netflix finding are intriguing but for those of us interested in viewer behavior, this is just a good start to the discussion. Would love to see a follow up study/studies (maybe using our dial testing tools?) that takes a deeper look into how viewers react to weekly aired episodes versus those that are available to watch continuously as well as what are those specific moments in a series or character development that hook viewers in. A study focused on revealing those results — now, that would hook us in.