TCA 2018: Netflix’s Cindy Holland says ‘taste communities’ help drive programming

Netflix vice president of original series Cindy Holland speaking onstage during Netflix TCA 2018 at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 29 in Beverly Hills.
(Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for Netflix)

Netflix’s proprietary algorithms are some of the most tightly guarded corporate secrets since the formula for Coca-Cola. On Sunday, the streaming service shed a little bit of light on the “taste communities” that help guide many of its decisions about programming and user recommendations.

Cindy Holland, who serves as vice president of original series for Netflix, told reporters gathered at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills that the company doesn’t make programming decisions based on demographics, but rather on the tastes of broadly defined groups of subscribers who gravitate toward the same shows.

“Demographics aren’t a good indicator of what people like to watch,” she said to reporters.”There are connections between content types … unintuitive things.”


Holland said there are communities that might enjoy such seemingly disparate content as Dave Chappelle’s stand-up comedy specials and “The Theory of Everything,” the genteel 2014 biopic of Stephen Hawking. Viewers in the same taste community may live on different continents, but they enjoy the same kinds of TV shows and movies.

She said Netflix analyzes the viewing habits within taste communities and develops new programming based on the data it gleans from those groups.

Taste communities also help drive the content recommendations subscribers see when they log on to the service. Netflix’s algorithm will promote the shows that other subscribers in the same community enjoyed, making those titles more visible to the browsing viewer.

“The most powerful promotional vehicle we have is the Netflix service itself,” Holland said.

During her talk, Holland spoke about a wide range of subjects, including the final season of “House of Cards.” The show will conclude its run with its upcoming sixth season, which won’t feature actor Kevin Spacey, who left the show following allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I don’t have a date to announce,” she said. “We’re really proud of the show. We always planned for season six to be the final season.”

A 16-year veteran of Netflix, Holland said she was proud of the company’s record haul of Emmy Award nominations. The streaming service received a total of 112 nominations this year, beating HBO, which has dominated the field for the last 17 years.

Said Holland: “It’s a nice added bonus for us as a company. But our focus is on making really great programming.”

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT