30 Best TV Shows of the 2010s – SPIN

House of Cards
There is a lot of loose talk about the proverbial “algorithm” these days, and you can thank Netflix for much of it. In the mid-2000s, when it was still just a DVD rental service (and a similarly minded company like Spotify was still years away from launching), Netflix was already tuning proprietary software that went through customers’ viewing habits with a fine-tooth comb, trying to predict what movies they’d want to watch next. The streaming era brought a wealth of new data with it, allowing Netflix to turn that comb into an atomic microscope. By 2013, after they’d finally pulled the plug on the DVD business and also begun moving into producing original programming, Netflix engineers told Wired that they could track users’ “different viewing behavior depending on the day of the week, the time of day, the device, and sometimes even the location, ” as well as when they “pause, rewind and fast forward” in a given program.That year saw the premiere of House of Cards, the first original series produced exclusively for Netflix. (Today, users may forget their first foray into TV production: 2012’s misbegotten comedy-thriller Lillyhammer, featuring Little Stevie Van Zandt as a gangster in witness protection, ....

The ritual of binge-watching itself became a part of the selling point. Also, Netflix claimed that it based its decision to buy David Fincher’s political drama on the same user data that was powering its recommendations—an elaborate system of microtargeting that made old-school practices like focus groups and ratings analysis look primitive by comparison.  According to a report from the New York Times after the premiere of House of Cards’ first season, Netflix agreed to produce the show after it determined that Fincher’s films were especially popular on their service, as were movies starring Kevin Spacey (remember those days?) and British TV thrillers like the original House of Cards. Everything about the show made it a sound investment for Netflix—a sure enough bet that the service reportedly ordered two seasons of the series up front, without even watching a pilot, and shelled out $100 million for the privilege. The move was unprecedented at the time, but today, we are inundated with products that seem reverse-engineered to fulfill existing algorithmic niches and resonate with popular keywords: from uncannily targeted print-on-demand t-shirts for mothers who listen to Iron Maiden and were born in August to Netflix’s own Stranger Things, which is hard ....

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