Netflix study suggests pilot episodes aren’t as important as you think

Netflix study suggests pilot episodes aren’t as important as you think

When a new show airs on TV, there’s a ton of pressure on the pilot to perform well in order to get audiences hooked. A new study from Netflix, however, suggests that the pilot may not be as important as people tend to assume.

Netflix analyzed 25 shows, and considered users “hooked” at an episode when 70 percent of viewers finished the season upon watching it.

Not a single show had users hooked after the first episode; the average was around episode four.


Of course, for traditional TV networks, pilot episodes hold some more weight; if the pilot isn’t interesting at all, chances that you’ll want to tune in the next week are small.

But for Netflix, where shows have entire seasons released at once, it allows show makers to exercise some creative liberty in how their story developers. As viewers are more likely to watch two or more episodes when they’re all available for streaming online, directors aren’t forced to fitting exciting plot twists or mysteries in the first episode, and can instead take some more time to develop characters.

That said, there are some caveats. The study doesn’t account for a show’s length, however. Both ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ and ‘Better Call Saul’ hooked viewers on episode four, for example, but the former has ~22 minute episodes while the latter’s are around ~45 minutes. Nor does it give any indication on the plot narratives that entice viewers – just when they happen.

The study included data from 16 markets, and also included interesting variation between countries. For example, the Dutch get hooked on shows about one episode earlier than most, regardless of the show. Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand took two episodes longer. 

Still it goes to show there’s more than just an exciting introduction to building up interest for a show. Here’s the full list from Netflix:

  • 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

Do you know when you were hooked? Netflix does [Netflix via The Verge]

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