Almost since the dawn of film, there have been test audiences, viewers who watch movies before they air and give feedback on what does and doesn’t work. Streaming giant Netflix got into the practice last year with the Preview Club program, which allows a select group of subscribers to stream content early and respond to surveys on what does or doesn’t work about the project. And now, the streamer plans to give the program a major expansion.
Per The Wall Street Journal, Netflix plans to expand the Preview Club, which currently has roughly 2,000 subscribers in the United States, to include over 10,000 users globally. This expansion will reportedly occur early next year.
According to the story, Netflix test audiences have already resulted in alterations to films like Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” and shows like “The Sandman.” “Don’t Look Up” was dinged by subscribers who previewed the film for being “too serious,” leading to McKay making changes to the film to emphasize its comedic bent. Although the movie, a satire of climate change starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, received mixed reviews, it set a record for the most weekly viewing hours of a film on the streamer and received four Academy Award nominations.
Similar changes were made to “The Sandman” after it was made available to employees at Netflix. The streamer frequently makes their content available to staffers and monitors their viewing behavior. After only a small portion of staffers finished “The Sandman,” the show’s creative team made changes to the show, and the series ultimately made the Netflix Top 10 show list for seven weeks.
Reportedly, film and show creators have final say over any alterations to their work. Although the streamer has had several breakout hits this year — including “Wednesday,” which broke the streamer’s English-language viewership record — and many of their shows like “Bridgerton” and “Stranger Things” continue to perform well critically, the streamer has fared worse than many of its other counterparts.
News of the expansion to the Preview Club comes at the end of a slightly rough year for Netflix, which has led the streamer to maximize subscriber numbers and viewership more aggressively. In the first two quarters of the year, Netflix lost subscribers for the first time since its launch, leading to plummeting stock and several layoffs at the company.
Although the streamer has since returned to subscriber growth, the setback caused Netflix to invest heavily in new strategies for building their business — including testing features meant to curb password-sharing and launching an ad-based tier. The streamer reportedly plans to continue spending $17 billion annually on new shows and movies for the next few years.
Reportedly, film and show creators generally have final say over any alterations to their work, despite the feedback the Preview Club may offer. Particularly early in its lifespan, Netflix cultivated a reputation for giving talent creative freedom, which has steadily eroded thanks to factors such as the constant cancellation of shows.
Netflix isn’t the only streamer in the business that uses test audiences. Amazon Prime has the “Amazon Preview” program, which similarly gives feedback on TV pilots and films, while Hulu has a “Hulu Brain Trust” program, which allows subscribers to give feedback and answer research questions related to content after it launches.