How long does it take before you get hooked on a TV series?

So for a long time now, this ‘ere blog has had a USP in terms of recommending shows: The Barrometer, which itself replaced The Carusometer. This takes the long view, requiring a minimum viewing of three episodes before it’s willing to give a cheesy grin and a rousing showtune – and the all-important thumbs up or thumbs down to the show.

But I often wonder if that’s too much or even few. Some shows you sense are never going to be good from the outset, while others genuinely do take a long time to get to the point (I’m looking at you here Rubicon10 episodes before you reveal your brilliance? Really?).

All I can do is guess. However, Netflix knows better. Apart from its top secret way to covertly view your every move as you sit in front of your TV screen or monitor (shh, don’t tell anyone), it also can analyse exactly how far you get into a show before you decide you’ve got to watch the rest of it or abandon it altogether. And they’ve just released the results in a shiny infographic (click it to make it bigger):

There’s also a list:

  • Arrow — Episode 8
  • Bates Motel — Episode 2
  • Better Call Saul — Episode 4
  • Bloodline — Episode 4
  • BoJack Horseman — Episode 5
  • Breaking Bad — Episode 2
  • Dexter — Episode 3
  • Gossip Girl — Episode 3
  • Grace & Frankie — Episode 4
  • House of Cards — Episode 3
  • How I Met Your Mother — Episode 8
  • Mad Men — Episode 6
  • Marco Polo — Episode 3
  • Marvel’s Daredevil — Episode 5
  • Once Upon a Time — Episode 6
  • Orange is the New Black — Episode 3
  • 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

Although it’s worth remembering that the Netflix viewing experience is different from watching TV weekly, as you can see, it’s never the pilot episode that grabs virtually anyone, so clearly I’m onto something there.

But there are a few surprises in there. Eight episodes before being grabbed by Arrow? Who waits that long? And episode five for Marvel’s Daredevil, rather than the bravura episode 2? How odd.

Oddest of all: how can anyone get addicted to Sense8?


  • JustStark

    It's Alternative Interpretations Of Statistics time! My favourite time, except for lunchtime, bedtime and septime*!

    So according to your source (which doesn't seem to link to any actual report) the named episode is 'the episode that, after viewing, kept 70 percent of people on board for the rest of the season, if not more'.

    That's a bit vague but shall we assume that it means for episode X, that 70% of the people who viewed episode X viewed the rest of the series (as opposed to, say, 60% of the people who viewed episode X – 1 or 80% of the people who viewed episode X + 1).

    So for Breaking Bad, say, for every 100 people who watched episode 2, 70 watched the rest of the series. Whereas we don't know, out of every 100 people who watched episode 1 how many watched the rest: could have been 10, could have been 60.

    So did episode 2 'hook' them?

    Well, maybe. But it's not the interpretation that leaps most readily to my mind. That is that pretty much everybody, going in, knows what sort of a programme Breaking Bad is, and whether they will like it or hate it. It has such a strong and divisive high concept, combined with an impressive publicity machine (both PR-driven and grassroots) that anyone starting it probably already knows whether they are going to stick with it.

    And more to the point, if they don't, well, the first episode is enough to put them off. It sets out its stall pretty much straight away, as I recall, emphasising the 'quirkiness' and the 'violence' right up front.

    So I suspect what that statistic is telling us is not that 'episode two gets 70% of people hooked', it's that 'episode 1 successfully puts off almost everyone who isn't going to stick around to the end'.

    In other words, they've basically got it the wrong way around. The episode they've picked is the one were the series stops shedding viewers.

    Assuming the viewers of a series, episode by episode, looks pretty much like a graph of something like y = .5 ^ x (ie, a sharp drop-off followed by a long tail), which seems plausible, then what they've found is how sharp the drop-off is; the point where most of those who just watched out of curiosity have been put off or bored, and only the die-hards who are going to stick around remain.

    It's not that the episode they have identified hooks viewers, it's the point where viewers stop being put off.

    So apply this to your 'surprises'…

    Eight episodes before being grabbed by Arrow? Who waits that long? And episode five for Marvel's Daredevil, rather than the bravura episode 2? How odd

    … and what this actually suggests to me is that where Breaking Bad is a programme people don't start watching at all unless they know they are going to stick with it (and if they accidentally do find themselves watching it without knowing that the first episode quickly puts them off), these are programmes where people might give them a chance to see if they are any good, and then they don't stop watching them for any particular reason, they just drift away gradually episode by episode as they get bored. So it takes longer for the 'hard core' to be the only ones left, because there's no watershed 'chip pan moment' early on that weeds out those who aren't going to stick with it.

    When you look at it that way it seems to me this makes a lot more sense…

    Well, except

    Oddest of all: how can anyone get addicted to Sense8?

    not sure anything can explain that.

    * Seriously it's a great parry, definitely in the top eight, don't let anybody tell you there are basically no circumstances where it's actually useful

  • I think you're probably right, but I also suspect it's a bit of both: with something like Daredevil, it's pretty clear from the get-go what the show's like, too, and the first four or five are pretty consistent in terms of their dark fightiness. If it were all about being put off, the first two episodes would be enough, I reckon, so you'd think that episode 2 or 3 would be the shed point.

    On the other hand, my wife loved the first few episodes and she binged her way through to episode 5. Then stopped. Perhaps because it was more of the same, so although she liked it, she wanted something a bit new, perhaps because of the nature of bingewatching itself and it's possible just to get bored of a show because the process of bingewatching saturates what you can take in one go and can then put your off the show you've been watching that you really liked.

    Anyway, I suspect it all stems from this press release:

    It's not much more helpful about the methodology. But the exact statement about the hooked episode is: “A hooked episode was defined when 70% of viewers who watched that episode went on to complete season one. Hooked episodes were first identified by country, then averaged to create the global hooked episode. The hooked episode had no correlation to total viewership numbers or attrition.”

  • JustStark

    If it were all about being put off, the first two episodes would be
    enough, I reckon, so you'd think that episode 2 or 3 would be the shed

    Well, that's kind of what I was getting at (but I perhaps didn't express well): for some programmes, it is about being 'put off', ie, they relatively quickly put off those who are not in the 'hard core'.

    But for others, eg Daredevil, there isn't any one single moment that puts off those who aren't in the hard core: they just keep watching until they can't be bothered to watch any more, like your wife.

    But what it definitely doesn't mean is that episode 2, or episode 5, or whatever, 'hooks' viewers and turns them into addicts.

  • It would probably be more accurate to say that the 'hooked' episode is the episode by which they have been hooked, not that that episode hooks them.

    Masterful use of the passive voice there, I think

  • JustStark

    Or, 'Some people will watch literally anything; this is the episode by which everyone else has stopped bothering.'

  • Glass half-empty v glass half-full. But it would explain the Sense8 result

  • bob

    “In other words, they've basically got it the wrong way around. The episode they've picked is the one were the series stops shedding viewers.”

    Ah, a better take. I agree.

    The press release says:
    “However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot.”
    Er… clearly wrong. Plenty of people are but not 70% of the audience. That's a terrible interpretation on their part.

    My expectation of their study would be to see the episode that prompts binge watching- the point at which you stop watching one a day or one a week (whatever is normal for the person) and start to watch consecutive episodes/ more rapidly than normal until the series is done because you simply cannot wait between episodes. That's the definition of hooked to me. And they ought to have that data too.

    Now I am scared by how much information Netflix has on me… They know when I am at my weakest.