How Netflix enhances the customer experience

Stephen Whiteside

"Here's the dark, dirty secret about big data," Todd Yellin confided in his audience at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2015. "It is a mountain of excrement. With little pieces of gold buried in there."

Drawing on more than a decade at Netflix, including over five years in his current role as vp/product innovation, Yellin explained how the company – today synonymous with providing data-driven, personalised experiences to its approximately 57 million customers – has formulated a "very consistent" model for sifting through the numerical waste to identify the nuggets of insight.

Its approach, known by tech specialists as A/B testing, shows groups of users who have just signed up to Netflix alternate versions of its platform. "With tens of thousands of new people coming every day, if we want to do a test, we randomly select and divide them: some people might be in one experience, some in the other. But the beauty of it is: they have no idea they're in a test," said Yellin.