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Netflix’s decision to renew Hemlock Grove shows its algorithms are working

Netflix (s NFLX) announced this week that it is renewing its original horror series Hemlock Grove for a second season, with 10 new episodes set to premiere in 2014. The news may come as a surprise to some: Netflix has spent a lot of effort promoting Arrested Development and House of Cards, but hasn’t made a big fuss about Hemlock. Critics who watched the show hated it, calling it a dud, a flop and “the company’s first truly bad series.

And if you’re anything like me, then you have never seen Hemlock Grove pop up in your Netflix recommendations. Heck, chances are, you may have never heard about Hemlock before reading this article. But that’s OK; Netflix didn’t make the show for us. It’s aimed at an audience of teenage horror fans. And Netflix had the numbers to know that this audience was engaged enough on the streaming service to make a title like Hemlock Grove succeed.

Netflix has long puzzled the traditional TV industry by refusing to give out ratings for its original shows, despite the fact that House of Cards, in particular, seemed to have turned into a hit, both loved by critics and audiences alike. But the company has been dismissive of this kind of feedback, with Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos telling me earlier this year that the absolute number of people who tune into a single episode doesn’t matter all that much. “When you say 10 million people watch a show, that really doesn’t tell you anything,” he said when I met him at an industry conference in February.

Instead, Netflix is looking to cultivate dedicated niche audiences, and is paying very close attention to the ways its subscribers are interacting with each piece of content. If they watch en episode of a show, are they opting to watch the second one as well? If they go from watching a movie to a TV show episode, does it fit into a pattern that lets you predict about what they’re going to watch next?

Sarandos told me that Netflix is using a mix of data and intuition when it makes decisions on original content. I’d bet that with renewals, data wins over gut feelings. And the fact that Netflix decided to renew Hemlock Grove doesn’t make the show good television — but it shows that the company’s algorithms are working.

172 Responses to “Netflix’s decision to renew Hemlock Grove shows its algorithms are working”

  1. I liked the series. No, I am not a teenager. It has its good and not so good spots in it. But it touches on what most people are wanting to watch, ware wolves and other supernatural beings. Can’t wait for the next season to start.

  2. I loved it, its not typical hollywood trash like a man flying around in a metal outfit yelling go go go…. So of course its a threat to these people. HG is original, brutal, bloody and fun. Im looking forward to the 2nd season as it is more interesting than 99 percent of the network reality garbage and dancing with snoredom. I loved house of cards as well. Keep it up netflix plot your own course.

  3. ADAM WEST

    looking forward to a second season hope ALL of the original cast are back including Famke Jansen !! and the werewolf and his mother ?? is she a wolf too ??

  4. ADAM WEST

    I LOVED HEMLOCK GROVE ,,THE FIRST EPISODE WAS HARD TO FINISH SLOW AND BORING ,,BUT GRABED MY ATTENTION TO WANT TO KNOW WHO WAS THE KILLER AND WHAT WAS FAMKE JENSEN REALLY ?? I WAS TOTALLY SUPRISED BY EACH EPISODE AS I STUCK WITH IT !! THE ENDING BLEW ME AWAY DIDNT SEE IT COMING AT ALL ! DONT KNOW HOW THEY CAN POSS DO ANOTHER SEASON

  5. Straight white married male in my 40s. I enjoyed it and look forward to next season. It kicked the snot out of the twighlight movies. Is it great? No, but it’s better than 90% of everything else on tv. The people who will watch it are valuable because they are loyal to such niche shows.

  6. J. Patterson

    The show is interesting. Compared to regular network TV it is very good and the acting by some of the actors is superb. So far I’ve watched 10 episodes and have yet to discover a plot, mostly just random scary things happening which are linked together creating an episode. Still, I will probably watch the second season.

  7. Sebastian

    I’m a 36 year old guy and I loved the show. It had enough “WTF is going on?!” that I watched it in the span of 2 days. I can’t wait for a second season.

  8. My husband and I rarely watch the same tv shows; Hemlock Grove was one of them very interesting, not predictable and random crazy characters. Yes, some of the acting is not the best sometimes, but doesn’t seem to bother us at all. Looking forward to next season and getting some answers!

  9. CindyD

    My husband does not watch tv shows but I got him hooked on this show (nor are we teenagers, I might add). We loved it and thought it was a good show . Can,t wait for the next season and many more after.

  10. Hemlock Grove is fresh! So many shows on standard TV are stale and redundant. Though the start was slow(character intros etc…) The plot has a depth that draws you in. Way to go Netflix, finally something original!

  11. First off, I’m pretty sure that Netflix has already stated that HG received higher ratings than HOC. HOC is indeed an amazing show, but HG was actually still quite good in its own right. The criticism it received had more to do with the fact the the horror genre is not really a big player with US audiences anymore. The show received much kinder marks in nations where the genre is huge. In the US, audiences are used to “formulated” shows that leave the viewer with a comfortable familiarity.

  12. The critics who watched it and hated it need to watch it again – I liked it, so sick of the reality shows, I enjoyed watching something a little creepy.

  13. I LOVE Hemlock Grove and am happy it’s going on to season two! I hate having to wait so long for a new episode though :( Can’t they just keep making more every week??? lol

  14. Nathassia Castilhos

    I don’t agree. I am not a “teenage horror fan audience” although I do use a lot of Netflix on my down time & that’s how I came across the advertisement on Netflix before the series began. The trailer had me interested & I don’t agree with the Critics, but to each it’s own! I absolutely loved the complex story & the series an definitely has my attention & I am SUPER excited about Season 2!!! =)

  15. The boyfriend and I (who are both in our 40s) loved Hemlock Grove. Is it the best show of all time? No. But it’s a fun horror serial — definitely as much fun as True Blood on the highly vaunted HBO. Adding to the entertainment is the ability to watch all the episodes at once, for a marathon viewing experience.

    • Completely agree. My wife and I found the show to be creepy, compelling, awesomeness. No, not world-class, award winning acting all-around (although I thought the main characters were very good), but critics don’t understand that this is a HORROR show — It’s not supposed to have great acting!

    • Fun fact: The actor who plays Roman Godfrey is the younger brother of the actor who plays Eric Northman on “True Blood”

      So it’s only fitting that you love both shows (as do I).

  16. I’m not sure what rock this writer was under but Netflix did quite a bit of promotion for HEMLOCK GROVE. The show is a beautifully shot train wreck but it’s become one of my summer guilty pleasures and I am NOT in the demo.

  17. shari w

    I agree with all the comments! Show is very additive. I am 46, I have always love horror. This show surprises me all the time!! Way to go Netflix

  18. LauraM

    Glad to hear they renewed it, just finished up the series myself, found it enjoyable. As someone else mentioned sure beats the reality junk on regular TV. And I am grandma age, not teen or 20 something. Personally I really prefer a show that has some thought process behind it, this one was enjoyable for that. I will be watching it when the next season is out!

  19. johnny

    I liked it, it has one of the best wolf changes ever and other wearwolf movies would benefit from it. Happy it’s comin back suck we have to wait so long