Facts About Netflix
1. EARLY SUBSCRIBERS GOT A LOT OF CHINESE PORNOGRAPHY.
In 1998, Netflix was still in the business of selling as well as renting DVDs. To try and offer consumers something new, co-founder Marc Randolph decided to offer footage of President Bill Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony about his involvement with Monica Lewinsky. But according to the book Netflixed, the duplicating house had a mix-up: out of the 1000 customers that ordered Clinton’s interview, a few hundred received discs full of hardcore Chinese pornography.
2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED KIBBLE.
Choosing a name for the company was a drawn-out process. Directpix.com, Replay.com, andothers were considered; so was Luna.com, which was the name of Randolph’s dog. When the company was being incorporated, he named it Kibble.com until they could decide on something permanent.
3. EXECUTIVES USED TO MAKE HOUSE CALLS.
From the beginning, Netflix has been preoccupied with seeing how users interact with its software in order to select titles. In the late 1990s, subscribers near the company’s location in Los Gatos, California were reached via telephone and asked a series of questions. Then staffers would ask if they could stop by to watch them use the site. Surprisingly, most agreed. Netflix brought them coffee, a small investment in gaining valuable information about their usage.
4. THEY GOT DENNIS QUAID TO SING.
For a 2006-07 publicity tour, Netflix decided to screen films in thematically-correct locations: For example, Field of Dreams was shown in the “real” Iowa cornfield-slash-baseball diamond featured in the movie. But the company also wanted actors to make appearances. Their approach: offer to let those with bands perform for the crowds. Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis, Dennis Quaid, and Kevin Bacon all agreed to the barter deal. Quaid and his band, The Sharks, played in New Orleans before a screening of his film The Big Easy.
5. THEY’VE MADE A SCIENCE OUT OF SPOILERS.
Because so much of Netflix’s high-profile content can be “binged” upon in a single weekend, the company commissioned cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken to examine how spoilers affect a person’s viewing habits. McCracken identified classifications of spoiler-prone people by whether they ruin a plot twist intentionally or hold it over others. (Some people are “Coded Spoilers,” too self-aware to let anything slip. These people are your friends.) The company also launched a site where visitors can rate whether a listed spoiler is “too soon” or “old news.” Ghostbusters is considered easily-spoiled; season one of Bates Motel, not so much.
6. THEY THINK YOU DECIDE ON A MOVIE IN TWO MINUTES.
Netflix spends more than $150 million on improving their recommendation system every year, trying to arrange selections based on what they think you might like. That kind of personalized menu is necessary: The company estimates that users spend only two minutes browsing for a title before choosing one or opting for another diversion entirely.
7. THEY ALSO THINK YOU MIGHT BE KIND OF A LIAR.
You can stop trying to impress Netflix with the streaming version of keeping Ulysses on your coffee table. In a 2013 Wired.com interview, Vice-President of Product Innovation Carlos Gomez-Uribe noted that viewers often report viewing documentaries or esoteric foreign movies. “But in practice,” he said, “that doesn’t happen very much.”
8. HOUSE OF CARDS WASN’T THEIR FIRST ORIGINAL.
In order to test frame rates and how their streaming service handles different kinds of content, Netflix produced 11 minutes of test footage in 2011 that can be viewed by typing “example show” in their search engine. Cut together (as seen above), the shorts become a very strange, very abstract art film, with an unidentified man juggling and reciting Shakespeare. (But not, sadly, juggling while reciting Shakespeare.)
9. BINGE-WATCHING MIGHT CORRELATE WITH DEPRESSION.
A 2015 study by the University of Texas found that respondents who claimed to binge on Netflix shows were more likely to suffer from depression, lack of self-control, or loneliness. The good news? The sample group was small—only 316 people—and the university’s definition of “binge-watching” was as low as two episodes. Amateurs.
10. THEY CAN BRING SHOWS BESIDES ARRESTED DEVELOPMENTBACK FROM THE DEAD.
It used to be that a canceled show stayed canceled. But with catalog titles getting a second life on Netflix, studios are paying attention to which series are performing. Fox told the Los Angeles Times that they’re considering reviving 2005’s Prison Break and another season of24 because of how successful the shows have been on the site. The network is already planning an X-Files revival for 2016.
11. THERE’S A SECRET MENU.
No, not that kind of secret menu. Pressing Shift + Alt + a left mouse click brings up a troubleshooting menu that allows you to adjust the bit rate of a stream so it doesn’t buffer. (On a Mac, it’s Shift + Option + click.) The picture quality won’t be as good, but it’s better than a pixilated Don Draper.
12. THERE WAS A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX.
In 2014, Netflix’s content descriptions became odd amalgamations of two different titles to create one completely nonsensical listing. The summaries were quickly fixed, but not before someone took several screen shots of the mishaps.
13. THERE’S A “GOD MODE.”
Netflix users sometimes bemoan the fact that their menu requires a lot of monotonous horizontal scrolling in order to see a complete selection of titles. A developer named Renan Cakirerk released a patch he dubbed “God Mode” that allows viewers to see all their options loaded at once, easily viewed as a vertical menu. (Caveat: it only works for browsers.)
14. THEY DON’T RELEASE RATINGS—BUT YOU CAN STILL GET THEM.
The service keeps viewership numbers for specific programming a secret, but that hasn’t stopped third-party observers from offering estimates. Nielsen, which tracks television audiences, announced plans last year to begin recording data for streaming services; Luth Research polled 2500 users to try and achieve a sample size reflective of overall viewing habits. According to the results, roughly 11 percent of subscribers—or 4.4 million people—watched Daredevil in its first 11 days, more than House of Cards or Bloodline. (Not surprisingly, Netflix renewed Daredevil for a second season.)