How Taste Clusters Influence the Books You Watch on Netflix

Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

Last year, I wrote about how Netflix looks at its global viewers through “taste clusters” or “taste communities.” There are around 2,000 of these taste communities worldwide, a way of connecting people who like similar kinds of stories.

Over at Publishers Weekly, I interviewed Matt Thunell, the vice president of original series at Netflix. He gave me a glimpse into how taste clusters work in adaptation at the streaming service.

The executive had been interested in adapting Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy since 2012, but never found the right fit for the project. At Netflix, Thunell used taste communities to reframe the adaptation.

He thought about a taste cluster that connected fans of Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. Here’s a quote from my article:

“There is one taste community that I’ll loosely describe as the intersection of romance and the supernatural … We didn’t have an original series that catered to this audience and this taste community. That frankly gave me the confidence, after years of waiting to get into the deal, to actually do it.”

Thunell told me more than I was able to include in the article, so I wanted to share more about taste communities at Netflix.

“We’re not looking at data to tell us what book we should buy or who we should cast or when we should necessarily release something,” Thunell told me. “It helps you strip away some of those preconceived notions that are kind of built-in from decades of linear TV thinking. When I approach data it’s always to support a creative instinct.”

Thunell also told me: “The benefit of Netflix in our data is that we can actually observe human behavior and that’s such a better way of getting at the heart of what people are going to respond to than their age or their ways or their gender, so these taste communities are incredibly valuable for breaking down the kind of preconceived notions that a lot of us have and actually getting the heart of human behavior.”

Thunell concluded: “We’re looking at data to reinforce the creativity of the people that we work with, so when I hear an amazing pitch or read an amazing book, I’m looking to the data to tell me ‘how big is this audience potentially?,’ and can I make a big bet on something with the confidence that that data gives me.”

In January, Netflix greenlit eight episodes of the Shadow and Bone series with Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Eric Heisserer, the who adapted Bird Box, and Stranger Things executive producer Shawn Levy.

Read the rest of my article at Publishers Weekly.

Journalist, author & west coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly. Author of THE DEEP END:

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