The transformation of Netflix has been interesting to watch. They started streaming TV episodes and movies over the Internet in 2007 but have since become one of the largest distributers of online TV and movies. They have muscled their way into the domain of cable TV and satellite TV by offering a product that is tailored to individual viewers.
Due to a focus on getting the most out of their data, Netflix is a leader in suggesting content that is of interest to subscribers. They regularly outperform their competition in areas of product experience, depth of titles, and cost point. They are almost single-handedly changing the way society expects to interact with streaming media and television.
Recently, I watched an interview with Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, on WSJ Live. He was promoting the new release of House of Cards and the upcoming new episodes of Arrested Development.
Regarding House of Cards being the most watched show on Netflix he said, “Engagement really matters to Netflix. So the more people watch the longer they stay. The more they tell their friends… There’s a real direct correlation between engagement and retention.”
The “direct correlation between engagement and retention” part caught my attention. Engagement and its benefits are topics regularly discussed and promoted in higher education. But the difference is that Ted was talking about engagement with a digital application, whereas in higher education we usually think about engagement being in the person-to-person realm.
What if we could measure digital engagement at the university level? The good news is we can. At most universities, a great deal of interactive data is already being recorded; we just rarely analyze the data, especially in an effort to improve student experience or academic success.
In the case of Netflix, customers only interact with a single “video provisioning” system, whereas in higher education we have several systems with which students interact (such as course material delivery systems, registration systems, resident life systems, and portals). Given that we have more data than other types of organizations, we can potentially reach a broad, multifaceted understanding of how engaged a student is with his or her learning process or how engaged he or she is at the university.
The reality is that figuring out what to do with the recorded data is challenging; the data must be gathered, transformed and analyzed. There is intrinsic value in knowing what systems or subsystems appeal to different types of students. But, we likely won’t know how to ultimately use the data until we have had a good chance to study our initial data gathering attempts and come up with questions for what we would like to know next.
At OU Web Communications our initial analysis has involved experimenting with Roambi. We are working on understanding how our iTunes U courses are being used and Roambi gives us a nice interactive graphing system that can be used with either an iPhone or iPad. As we get it figured out we are looking forward to providing the data to course instructors and other university departments.
Our efforts tie into the University of Oklahoma’s Digital Initiative, which encourages us to find innovative ways to individualize and improve the educational outcomes of our students. This means that we expect to eventually see the information we gather used to tailor each system involved to the preferences and interests of each individual student. If we can manage that then maybe Netflix will be able to learn a few things from us.