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Netflix knows the exact episode of a TV show that gets you hooked

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A TV pilot may get you interested in a show, but Netflix says it's rarely the episode that gets you hooked. It's probably no surprise that Netflix has been analyzing our TV-watching habits to figure out exactly how we all get obsessed with certain series. It hasn't come to any conclusions about precisely what gets us addicted, but it's found that there tends to be an early episode in each series that, once viewers watch it, leads to a strong chance of people coming back to finish the season. That can be as early as episode two in the case of Breaking Bad or as late as episode eight in the case of How I Met Your Mother.

The point that Netflix looked for is the episode that, after viewing, kept 70 percent of people on board for the rest of the season, if not more. It's presenting findings today on 25 shows:

  • Arrow — Episode 8
  • Bates Motel — Episode 2
  • Better Call Saul — Episode 4
  • Bloodline — Episode 4
  • BoJack Horseman — Episode 5
  • Breaking Bad — Episode 2
  • Dexter — Episode 3
  • Gossip Girl — Episode 3
  • Grace & Frankie — Episode 4
  • House of Cards — Episode 3
  • How I Met Your Mother — Episode 8
  • Mad Men — Episode 6
  • Marco Polo — Episode 3
  • Marvel’s Daredevil — Episode 5
  • Once Upon a Time — Episode 6
  • Orange is the New Black — Episode 3
  • Pretty Little Liars — Episode 4
  • Scandal — Episode 2
  • Sense8 — Episode 3
  • Sons of Anarchy — Episode 2
  • Suits — Episode 2
  • The Blacklist — Episode 6
  • The Killing — Episode 2
  • The Walking Dead — Episode 2
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — Episode 4

Netflix's point, of course, is that its method of releasing an entire season of a TV show all at once is a much better way to win over fans. Whereas a pilot may get some people to come back the next week, letting viewers watch through a few episodes in a row appears to be a smarter way of ensuring that they'll return. "We found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot," Ted Sarandos, Netflix's content chief, says in a statement. "This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made."

That said, it's worth keeping in mind that Netflix's data can't actually speak to what happens when people watch these shows week to week on TV: it's only looking at when people get hooked watching these series on demand on Netflix. It's entirely possible that the suspense that comes from waiting week to week creates an entirely different effect on live TV viewers.

Some countries get hooked sooner, others take longer

Netflix's data comes from viewing habits on its own service across 16 markets, including the US, UK, and Australia, although not all shows were available in all areas. The episode that Netflix names as the "hooked" episode is the global average, but it found some local variations. "The Dutch, for instance, tend to fall in love with series the fastest, getting hooked one episode ahead of most countries irrespective of the show," Netflix writes. On the other hand, "members in Australia and New Zealand [got] hooked one to two episodes later than the rest of the world on almost every show."

Another interesting find here is that the number of episodes it takes to get viewers hooked doesn't have a connection to audience size, which means that hooking viewers earlier doesn't necessarily mean that a show will attract more people. That suggests the subject and broader appeal of a show are a critical factor in attracting viewers, even if it takes them a while to get addicted.