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?
There’s a reason why they, and we, are confused about this. Our ideological sympathies are not good predictors at this point of how we feel about issues of digital privacy and electronic freedom. The fact that these issues don’t have a clear ideological colouration yet is important because they are among the most crucial issues of the 21st century. They are crucial because our identities and social selves, in this century, increasingly reside online. They are crucial because money, in this century, increasingly accrues to holders of intellectual property, particularly to those who control the ways we engage in online commerce—the very same companies (Google, Yahoo, Apple, Verizon) that hold the databases which the NSA accesses via PRISM. In this century, digital knowledge is the key to both property and power. Good algorithms and massive amounts of data are what you need to have in order to succeed in retail, to defend your country from attack, or to run a successful presidential campaign. Anxiety over digital rights and freedoms is a driving issue for people under 40, and it cuts across partisan and ideological lines.
I believe Berlin has the best shot in the Western world outside of Silicon Valley at becoming a place with a true tech startup ecosystem. I don’t just mean a place where one or two great companies are born — that can happen pretty much anywhere. I mean a place with an enduring ecosystem powered by a network effect that gets stronger over time. Like what Hollywood is for entertainment, London and New York are for big finance, Milan and Paris are for fashion, and Silicon Valley is for technology.