Netflix Finds the Center of the Tootsie Pop

The wise owl in the classic 1970 "How Many Licks?" TV commercial declared it took three to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. At least that's how many it took before he bit into it.

Netflix wanted to know how many episodes of a TV show it takes before viewers bite into the whole season, and found that in most cases it takes at least three.

The OTT service analyzed global streaming data for the inaugural seasons of more than 20 shows -- Netflix originals and licensed fare -- across 16 markets between January and July and detected a pattern: an episode emerged from each show after which 70% of viewers went on to complete the entire first season.

Netflix calls that the "hooked" episode.

"It turns out that when commercial breaks and appointment viewing are stripped away and consumers can watch an entire season as they choose, you can see fandom emerge," the company said.

Among the cable and OTT shows sampled in the study, viewers were generally hooked by episode 4:

2 Episodes In
--Bates Motel
--Breaking Bad

3 Episodes In
--House of Cards
--Orange Is the New Black

4 Episodes In
--Better Call Saul
--Grace and Frankie
--Pretty Little Liars
--Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

For newly christened Best Drama Emmy winner Mad Men, it took six episodes for viewers to get hooked.

Click here for the full-sized graphic pictured.

"Given the precious nature of primetime slots on traditional TV, a series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show," Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, said. "However, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot. This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made."

International Variations
The "hooked" episode remained fairly consistent across worldwide markets, Netflix said, but some slight geographic differences emerged:
--The Dutch tend to get hooked the fastest, one episode ahead of most countries.
--Brazilians fell for Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul one episode sooner than Mexicans.
--Australians and New Zealanders hold out longer than viewers in other countries, generally getting hooked one to two episodes after everyone else.

As for the original question, the Tootsie Pop commercial ultimately concluded "the world may never know" how many licks it takes to get to the chocolatey center, but three groups of student researchers have tried, with less consistency in the results than Netflix's study.