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Netflix Data Reveals Exactly When TV Shows Hook Viewers — And It’s Not the Pilot

Netflix crunched cold, hard viewing data for more than two dozen TV shows and says it has determined which specific episode grabbed most subscribers to the point where they watched the entire first season.

However, none of the shows Netflix looked at, which included originals and licensed series, hooked viewers with the pilot. In fact, two shows — “Arrow” and “How I Met Your Mother” — didn’t hit the tipping point until episode 8. In the traditional TV biz, conventional wisdom holds that a show’s pilot is the most critical linchpin to igniting viewer interest, given the nature of how new television programs debut.

But don’t get the wrong idea: Netflix has no plans to use Big Data to rejigger the way TV shows get made, in order to put the strongest emotional hooks earlier in a season (which would result in more viewing by subscribers). Instead, the company sees the metrics as validation of its binge-release strategy of delivering all episodes of a season at once.

“This won’t have any direct effect on the creative process for our showrunners/creators,” a Netflix rep explained.

Netflix pinpointed the episode for each show’s season 1 for which 70% of viewers who watched it went on to complete the entire run.

For example, in “Breaking Bad” season one, the “hook” was episode 2: the one in which Jesse Pinkman dissolves a drug rival in a bathtub — and the disintegrated remains crash down through the ceiling. For prison dramedy “Orange Is the New Black” (pictured above), which Netflix execs have said is the service’s most-watched original series, it’s episode 3. That’s when Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba, who just won a Primetime Emmy for the role) drops both poems and fluids in the course of her imagined romance with Piper (Taylor Schilling).

See More: Binge-Viewing Is Becoming a Less Shameful Activity: Survey

“Given the precious nature of primetime slots on traditional TV, a series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said. “However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot. This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made.”

Netflix found slight geographic differences in the “hook” study. For example, Germans showed early fandom for “Arrow” whereas French viewers were hooked earlier on “How I Met Your Mother” than the worldwide average.

For the study, Netflix analyzed data from accounts of subs who started watching season one of the selected series between January and July 2015 in Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S., and between April and July 2015 for Australia and New Zealand. The company noted that the hooked episode had no correlation to overall viewership numbers or viewer attrition for a particular series.

Here’s the full list of shows Netflix analyzed, with the number of the episode when 70% of viewers were hooked (all series are the first seasons):

  • “Arrow”* – Episode 8
  • “Bates Motel” – Episode 2
  • “Better Call Saul”* – Episode 4
  • “Bloodline” – Episode 4
  • “BoJack Horseman” – Episode 5
  • Breaking Bad”* – Episode 2
  • “Daredevil” – Episode 5
  • “Dexter”* – Episode 3
  • “Gossip Girl” – Episode 3
  • “Grace & Frankie” – Episode 4
  • “How I Met Your Mother” – Episode 8
  • “House of Cards”* – Episode 3
  • “Mad Men”* – Episode 6
  • “Marco Polo” – Episode 3
  • Orange Is the New Black” – Episode 3
  • “Once Upon A Time” – Episode 6
  • “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

* Denotes series that are not currently available in all Netflix territories.

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