×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Netflix’s Secrets to Success: Six Cell Towers, Dubbing and More

For many consumers, Netflix may be synonymous with shows like “Stranger Things” and “Narcos.” But even as Netflix establishes itself as a global TV network, it is still very much a tech company at heart. The company spends more resources than virtually any of its close competitors on getting the tech behind its streaming service right.

Most of that happens behind the scenes, but this week, Netflix invited journalists from around the world to its offices in Hollywood and Los Gatos, Calif., to shine the spotlight on some of this work. Here are a few of the tidbits shared by the company that show just how advanced Netflix’s tech operations are.

Netflix has its own cell towers. Netflix wants to test its app running on mobile devices under a variety of conditions available around the world, so the company decided to bring the operating equipment of six cell towers to its Los Gatos offices. “Minus the towers,” quipped Scott Ryder, the company’s director of mobile streaming.

Netflix mobile lab
CREDIT: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Inside Netflix’s mobile device lab: Each of these boxes houses dozens of phones and tablets, shielded from outside wireless interference.

The cell tower equipment is housed in the company’s mobile device lab, where they are joined by a number of cabinets that look like fancy Netflix-themed fridges, but in reality are Faraday cage-like boxes to suppress any outside interference, and also make sure that those experimental cell towers don’t mess up phone reception on the rest of the campus.

Each of these boxes can house dozens of devices, and emulate certain mobile or Wi-Fi conditions. “We can make a box look like India, we can make a box look like the Netherlands,” Ryder said. Altogether, Netflix runs over 125,000 tests in its mobile lab every single day.

Netflix cell towers
CREDIT: Janko Roettgers

Inside Netflix’s mobile device lab: These cabinets house the equipment for three of Netflix’s six cell phone towers.

The Netflix button is a big deal. Years ago, when Netflix started to bring its app to smart TVs and other streaming devices, it began to negotiate with the manufacturers of these devices to include a Netflix button on their remote controls. That button has been a solid success story for the company. Consumers who have the button use it a lot, said Netflix VP of device ecosystem Scott Mirer. In fact, on most devices with a button on the remote, it accounts for the majority of Netflix app launches.

Netflix button slide
CREDIT: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Netflix just re-encoded its entire catalog, again. To optimize videos for mobile viewing, Netflix recently re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-scene basis. “We segment the videos into shots, we analyze the video per shot,” said the company’s director of video algorithms Anne Aaron.

Now, an action scene in a show may stream at a higher bit rate than a scene featuring a slow monologue — and users with limited bandwidth are set to save a lot of data. A few years back, 4 GB of mobile data would get you just about 10 hours of Netflix video, said Aaron. Now, members can watch up to 26 hours while consuming the same amount of data.

Netflix encoding chart
CREDIT: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Netflix video encoding advancements: New technology allows the company to stream videos at the same quality with less than half of the data previously used.

Netflix previously re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-title basis, which already allowed it to stream animated shows at much lower bitrates than action movies with a lot of visual complexity. The next step for the company will be to adopt AV1, an advanced video codec developed by an alliance of companies that also includes Apple, Amazon, and Google. Aaron said Netflix could start streaming in AV1 before the end of this year, with Chrome browsers likely being first in line to receive AV1 streams.

Why Netflix almost never goes down. The company’s service achieved an availability rate of 99.97% in 2017, according to Netflix engineering director Katharina Probst. Part of that is due to the fact that Netflix learned from outages early on, and now uses Amazon’s AWS data centers across three regions. When one of those regions does go down, Netflix automatically redirects all of its traffic to the two other regions.

In fact, the company even tests this fall-back regularly by just taking a region offline itself — something the company calls chaos engineering. “We intentionally introduce chaos into our systems,” explained Probst. Up until recently, it took Netflix up to an hour to successfully redirect all requests in case of such a massive failure. More recently, the company was able to bring that time down to less than 10 minutes.

Netflix knows its subscribers better than they do. Netflix is famous for doing a ton of testing, but the company is also conducting thousands of in-person interviews with members as well as people who haven’t subscribed yet every year, according to its VP of consumer research Adrien Lanusse. Except, sometimes, consumers don’t tell Netflix what they actually want.

Netflix global shows slide
CREDIT: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Netflix now produces originals around the globe — and streams them to U.S. audiences dubbed.

One example: During those interviews, U.S. consumers overwhelmingly told the company that they wanted to watch foreign originals with English subtitles. However, the folks at Netflix weren’t so sure that was true, so they streamed a dubbed version of the French show “Marseille” to a subset of its viewers by default. Those who got the dubbed streams were more likely to finish the series than those who watched it with subtitles.

That’s why Netflix is now streaming dubbed versions of shows by default, while still letting users switch to the original with subtitle at any time. Consumers seem to like it, no matter what kind of notions they might have had about dubbing: In the U.S., the majority of viewing of the German drama “Dark” as well as the Brazilian sci-fi show “3%” happened with dubbed audio, according to Netflix’s international dubbing manager Denise Kreeger.

More Digital

  • AVOD streaming video OTT users -

    Comcast Unveils 'Flex,' a Streaming Service for Internet Customers

    Comcast said it would unveil “Flex,” a hub for its Internet-only customers that allows them to stream and purchase shows and movies, the latest effort by a traditional cable provider to latch on to customers who are migrating to broadband services, The Philadelphia cable giant will also make free, ad-supported services available via the service, [...]

  • splice

    Splice Raises $57.5 Million in Latest Funding Round

    Splice, a favorite of music creators that allows access to a library of three million rights-cleared sounds, announced today that the company closed a Series C funding round at $57.5 million. That brings Splice’s total amount raised to roughly $102 million since its launch in 2013. It raised a Series B in November of 2017. [...]

  • Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime

    Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime Emmy Nomination

    Facebook is now in the awards hunt: Its popular original series “Red Table Talk” hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith was nominated for a 2019 Daytime Emmy. It appears to be the first-ever Daytime Emmy Awards nomination for a Facebook-funded show, although a company rep was unable to confirm that. “Red Table Talk” is nominated in [...]

  • MLB-TV

    MLB.TV Joins Lineup on Amazon's Prime Video Channels

    Amazon has launched MLB.TV on Prime Video Channels for Prime members in the U.S., just in time for the start of Major League Baseball’s 2019 regular season start next week. The MLB.TV package provides regular-season out-of-market baseball games, both live and on-demand. Prime members in the U.S. can subscribe to MLB.TV for $24.99 per month, [...]

  • Tencent Music Shares Drop Despite Solid

    Tencent Music Shares Drop Despite Solid First Earnings Report

    Proving that good is not always good enough, Tencent Music Entertainment shares fell 9 percent after the Chinese company released its 2018 earnings, wiping out $2.7 billion in market capitalization of what is arguably the biggest audio music service in the world. Chalk it up to big expectations and a short track record: Wednesday’s earnings [...]

  • PewDiePie - YouTube

    PewDiePie vs. T-Series: YouTube Channels Keep Battling for No. 1 Spot

    UPDATED, 3/21: The back-and-forth battle for YouTube’s No. 1 spot continues. T-Series on Thursday again pulled ahead of YouTube’s PewDiePie as the No. 1 most-subscribed channel on the platform — coming a day after T-Series briefly topped the vlogger-gamer-comedian and renewing fans’ support him. In a months-long symbolic running battle for the title, PewDiePie and his [...]

  • Netflix to Test Special Video Previews

    Netflix Will Test Character-Driven Video Previews for Its Kids Content

    Netflix is getting ready to try a new thing to help younger viewers discover new shows: The video service will start testing character-driven video previews of some of its shows later this year, executives revealed during a press event in Los Angeles Tuesday. The test, which will be rolled out on some members’ TV devices [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content