How a Norwegian Viking Comedy Producer Hacked Netflix’s Algorithm

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Knowing his satire ‘Norsemen’ would get lost in a glut of programming, Anders  Tangen launched his own ambitious — and successful — marketing campaign.

When producer Anders Tangen sold Norsemen toNetflix in 2017, he knew he had a winner. A period comedy about Vikings with modern-day hang-ups — one chieftain apologizes for his “fear-based leadership style,” another hires a slave as his “creative director” — Norsemen seemed the perfect antidote to the seriousness of Game of Thrones.

But there was a problem. With so many shows on Netflix — its U.S. service alone has 1,700-plus TV series — how would a Norwegian Viking comedy get noticed, especially when Netflix doesn’t traditionally provide a marketing push for acquisitions? (The show originally aired on public broadcaster NRK in Norway). “You can’t blame Netflix,” says Tangen. “They have so many shows, they can’t market everything.”

The key to landing on Netflix’s radar, he knew, would be to hack its recommendation engine: get enough people interested in the show early. Then, hopefully, Netflix’s mysterious algorithm would do its thing.

Netflix had given Tangen an Aug. 18, 2017, date for the premiere of Norsemen in its English-language territories (the show shot back-to-back versions in Norwegian and English). Three weeks before launch, he set up a campaign on Facebook, paying for targeted posts and Facebook promotions. The posts were fairly simple — most included one of six short (20- to 25-second) clips of the show and a link, either to the show’s webpage or to media coverage.

They used so-called A/B testing — showing two versions of a campaign to different audiences and selecting the most successful — to fine-tune. The U.S. campaign didn’t cost much — $18,500, which Tangen and his production partners put up themselves — and it was extremely precise. Tangen focused the initial campaign in and around major U.S. cities (L.A., New York, Miami, Chicago) with additional pushes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota, three states with large ethnic Norwegian populations. He broke potential Norsemen fans down into seven separate target groups, with each getting its own tailored Facebook campaign.

In just 28 days, the Norsemen campaign reached 5.5 million Facebook users, generating 2 million video views and some 6,000 followers for the show. Netflix noticed. “Three weeks after we launched, Netflix called me: ‘You need to come to L.A., your show is exploding,'” Tangen recalls.

Netflix’s algorithm had started to kick in. Fans who had become aware of the show through Tangen’s campaign began recommending it to their friends. Norsemen started appearing on Netflix’s recommendation carousel. Tangen invested a further $15,000 to promote the show on Facebook worldwide, using what he had learned during the initial U.S. campaign.

When Norsemen came up for a season two renewal, Netflix upped its commitment, making the show a “Netflix Original,” meaning more in-house marketing. Season 3 is currently in production and will go out on Netflix worldwide next year.

“The lesson is, you can’t wait around for Netflix or anyone else to promote your show,” says Tangen. “It’s up to you to create the buzz.”

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