How a Norwegian Viking comedy producer hacked Netflix’s algorithm – the Hollywood reporter


When producer Anders Tangen sold Normans To Netflix in 2017, he knew he had a winner. Period comedy about Vikings with modern issues – one leader apologizes for his “fear-based leadership style”, another hires a slave as his “creative director” – Normans seemed the perfect antidote to the gravity of Game Of Thrones.

But there was a problem. With so many shows on Netflix – its US service alone has over 1,700 TV series – how would a Norwegian Viking comedy stand out, especially when Netflix doesn’t traditionally provide a marketing push for acquisitions? (The show originally aired on the public broadcaster NRK in Norway). “You can’t blame Netflix,” says Tangen. “They have so many shows that they can’t market everything.”

The key to landing on Netflix’s radar, he knew, would be to hack its recommendation engine: get enough people interested in the show from the start. Then hopefully Netflix’s mysterious algorithm would do its job.

Netflix had given Tangen a date on August 18, 2017, for the premiere of Normans in its English-speaking territories (the show has shot consecutive versions in Norwegian and English). Three weeks before the launch, it set up a campaign on Facebook, paying for targeted Facebook posts and promotions. The posts were fairly straightforward – most included one of the show’s six short clips (20-25 seconds) and a link, either to the show’s webpage or to media coverage.

They used what’s called A / B testing – showing two versions of a campaign to different audiences and selecting the most successful one – to refine. The American campaign didn’t cost much – $ 18,500, which Tangen and his production partners edited themselves – and it was extremely precise. Tangen focused the initial campaign in and around major American cities (LA, New York, Miami, Chicago) with additional spurts in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota, three states with large ethnic Norwegian populations. He broke the potential Normans fans into seven distinct target groups, each getting their own tailor-made Facebook campaign.

In just 28 days, the Normans The campaign reached 5.5 million Facebook users, generating 2 million video views and some 6,000 subscribers for the show. Netflix noticed. “Three weeks after our launch, Netflix called me, ‘You gotta come to LA, your show is blowing up,’” Tangen recalls.

Netflix’s algorithm had started to kick in. Fans who learned about the show through Tangen’s campaign began to recommend it to their friends. Normans started appearing on Netflix’s recommendation carousel. Tangen invested an additional $ 15,000 to promote the show on Facebook around the world, using what he learned during the initial US campaign.

When Normans has come for a season two renewal, Netflix has upped its engagement, making the show a “Netflix Original,” which means more internal marketing. Season 3 is currently in production and will be released on Netflix worldwide next year.

“The lesson is, you can’t wait for Netflix or someone else to promote your show,” says Tangen. “It’s up to you to create the buzz.

This story first appeared in the August 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.


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