The Science and Magic of every Netflix Originals show
On the 2nd day of our trip to California to visit the Netflix headquarters, we toured around the Los Gatos complex (see the office tour here). This was our chance to see the inner workings of Netflix and how they deliver all those thousands of movies and TV series worldwide.
Like Apple, Google or Microsoft, Netflix is slowly becoming an integral part of everyone’s living room. Just like YouTube or Spotify, I regard Netflix as an essential entertainment service both at home splashed on my TV or on the road which is just a single tap away on my mobile phone.
From Lens to the Living Room
There is a lot of art and science involved in streaming a movie or TV series to your home or mobile device and Netflix is one of the biggest content and technology company that innovates in this space.
Before an episode is stream to your TV, it goes thru a lot of process and involves a lot of partners – from the producers, post production team, localization, encoding, personalization, distribution and device-makers.
Netflix “War Room”: Engineers, product managers, social media team huddle for the count-down of the global release of Marvel’s Iron Fist.
While most of the Netflix library are licensed content, a growing number of titles are produced by Netflix called Originals.
To really push the boundaries and bring the best experience to its customers, Netflix employs a lot of really smart people and develop new technologies.
Netflix has a pool of data scientists and mathematicians to dig into their big data and create an algorithm that provides an intelligent recommendation engine.
Each subscriber is given a unique set of recommendations based on their personal viewing habits, interaction and preferences.
Todd Yellin, VP for Product Innovation, talks about the interface and personalization on Netflix.
Even the littlest detail is taken into consideration for personalization – the types of recommended title categories, the arrangement of titles per row or category, the title cover, and the layout per device-type – all these are carefully studied and customized to give the user the best experience.
This April, Netflix is launching a new ratings feature (“thumbs”) that enables members to indicate what type of titles they did and didn’t enjoy. This feature helps members have even more control over how the service is personalized based on their unique tastes and preferences.
Encoding and Compression
Using more advanced video codecs such as Google’s VP9, Netflix is able to stream the same quality of videos at a lower bit rate. This reduces stress on the network and also helps reduce bandwidth cost to users who have limited allocations (bandwidth caps).
Anne Aaron, Director of Video Algorithms, is one of a few Filipino engineers working at Netflix.
Netflix employs a complex compression strategy to maximize the output in terms of delivering lower streaming requirements yet ensuring the best video quality.
The main focus with streaming is to be able to deliver an almost-flawless user experience, making sure that there is no or minimum lag or buffering (adaptive streaming).
In the future, Netflix is looking at DVD-like picture quality at just 100kbps bitrate (excluding 56kbps audio).
Pushing the Limits of Picture Quality
With the LG G6 being the first smartphone to support Dolby Vision, users will experience better picture quality. LG’s W7 OLED 4K HDR TV, which is a very thin 3mm wallpaper-like TV, also supports Dolby Vision.
The difference between a standard dynamic range and high dynamic range display is very obvious — the colors pop out, details are more noticeable and the high contrast gives you the ability to see colors and details you couldn’t see before.
This year, more and more devices will be released that support HDR and Dolby Vision, starting with TVs and flagship smartphones like the LG G6.
If bandwidth or connection speed is not an issue, Netflix will attempt to deliver the picture in the best possible way – using 4K resolution and HDR.
The Art of Telling a Story, in 20 Languages
Some of the Netflix titles are translated to about 20 different languages and sub-titles to address the local needs of as many subscribers around the world.
With as much as 20 language translation per show, Netflix aims to add 3 more each year.
Aside from an in-house localization team, Netflix employs close to 30 3rd-party suppliers for dubbing in various languages and text localization.
Netflix even created its own standardized test called Hermes in order to catalog and rate all their talents in terms of proficiency in a specific language. The test is publicly available and anyone can take it. This is also a scalable way for Netflix to discover new and really good talents.
You too can take the translation proficiency test. Just go here (http://test.hermes.nflx.io/). If you get a really good score above 70 points, you might be contacted to become a talent for Netflix.
Delivery and Distribution
In order to deliver the best streaming quality and reduce the load in the network, Netflix gives out cache servers called Open Connect Appliances to local telcos and ISPs.
These servers host most of the popular movies and TV series for that specific location so that subscribers can access and stream faster.
Locating the content locally reduces the international bandwidth thereby lowering the cost of streaming for the ISP.
If an ISP is unable to host these servers, Netflix can also co-locate them to the nearest domestic or regional internet exchange. It’s not as efficient but still helps deliver the content faster and reduce bandwidth cost.
Other recent tweaks to help improve the viewing experience is the ability to watch selected titles offline by downloading and store the downloaded files into the smartphone’s microSD expandable storage.
Every year, Netflix tests hundreds of devices from smartphones, to media players, consoles and big-screen TVs for compatibility with Netflix. This is also true even with the remote controls of the smart TVs, some of which have included a dedicate Netflix button.
TVs and streaming devices are tested for compatibility with Netflix.
For 2017, the Netflix Recommended TVs include the Samsung 7, 8, 9 and Q-series of Smart TVs, all of LG’s 4K UHD TVs running webOS 3.5 and the entire Android TV line-up of Sony for 2017.
Netflix Recommended TVs comes with the latest Netflix app and the latest features like powering-up and starting Netflix in a matter of seconds, instantaneous switching between apps or to/from Live TV, and an improved hi-resolution interface for Netflix.
Netflix wants to be in every device or every screen in the future, delivering the best content with the best viewing experience.
Reed Hastings, CEO and Co-founder of Netflix, answer questions from international media.
For 2017, Netflix is expected to spend $6 billion in content alone, spread across 20 original shows and a total of 1,000 hours of exclusive programming. It’s also setting aside another $1 billion for technology and product development plus another $1 billion for marketing.
Since Netflix’s expansion to 130 new countries in January 2016, subscriber numbers have jumped to over 93 million.