Netflix is using subscribers as focus groups for unreleased shows

The streaming service is taking its cue from Hollywood,

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Detail of a mans hand scrolling through Netflix on an Apple iPad Pro, taken on March 6, 2020. (Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Netflix is turning to a conventional strategy to improve its originals: the focus group. Variety has learned Netflix has been screening movies and TV shows in advance to obtain feedback from subscribers invited to participate. Customers reportedly watch several titles over the course of six months and fill out a survey to indicate what they liked, hated or would change.

The company confirmed that it's running focus groups, but only in the US. The panels have reportedly been active for roughly a year.

These screenings have been mainstays in Hollywood for decades, and are used to make edits when producers want a title to reach the broadest possible audience. Terminator 2's ending was changed after a focus group rejected the initial version, for instance. As in those cases, Netflix is using the groups to make sure its originals are received well and keep viewers coming back.

The company is very familiar with experimentation. It has tested everything from random show selection through to mobile games. However, testing show content is relatively new. While it's not clear what prompted the new approach, Netflix is facing mounting pressure from rivals who are chasing awards and the customers that sometimes follow.

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