In the lazy, hazy days between Christmas and New Year last December, Netflix released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
The drama allows viewers to interact with the action on screen by choosing what happens next, and was an instant worldwide smash.
At the heart of the Netflix team working on the top-secret project was Caroline Morgan — but for the 38-year-old, making her way into one of the world’s leading entertainment and media companies came through answering a simple phone call.
Los Gatos, California, where Netflix’s HQ is based, is a long way from Melbourne, where Belfast-born Morgan grew up after immigrating from Northern Ireland at the age of six.
The next move was north, to Queensland, to complete a Bachelor of Communications and a Bachelor of Commerce at Bond University on the Gold Coast.
Now employed as Netflix’s director of product research and consumer insights, Morgan’s career began with stints at a media-focused market-research consultancy in London, followed by more agency work and client-side positions with commercial giants Tesco, American Express and Samsung.
“Tesco taught me how to develop a customer-first mindset, American Express surrounded me with seasoned leaders who taught me how to take the long view on things, and Samsung was constantly changing, so I learnt how to pivot quickly to respond to changing needs of the company and innovation,” Morgan explains.
Returning to Australia in 2014 to take up the Samsung role and reconnect with friends and family, Morgan was phoned by a corporate headhunter in 2017. They were ringing on behalf of Netflix.
She took the call, and despite having no intentions to move, agreed to an interview “for the practice”. Five phone calls and two full days of interviews in San Francisco later, her life had changed again.
“At the end of the second day I was offered the role, and I said: ‘Yes, I’ll need eight weeks to wrap up life in Australia.’ I spent the flight home wondering how I was going to tell my parents that I was accidentally off again.”
These days, Morgan’s focus is firmly on making the Netflix experience as enjoyable as it can be for its 139 million paid members, in over 190 countries.
“At the heart of what I do is identify where we should focus on improving the Netflix service for our global members so that they can get maximum enjoyment from the service. I do this by asking members to share their experience of interacting with our service. I then distill these interactions into insights for the product managers, engineers and designers.”
Netflix’s consumer insights team is spread across offices in the United States, Amsterdam and Singapore, and includes members who focus on markets in those regions, speak the local language and understand the nuances of the local culture.
That team gives Netflix valuable insights into the behaviour of customers across the globe, a task as complex as it is multi-faceted, Morgan says.
“There are so many trends at play all the time. Some are in the early stages and some are nearing maturity while others are ‘reborn’ again and manifest themselves differently in each country or after changing world events.”
Worldwide, more people are demanding content that fits their schedule, and their choice of platform, Morgan says.
“The desire for on-demand entertainment continues to grow at the same time as increasing device diversity. This means that members can start watching something on TV in the evening and then seamlessly transition over to their mobile during the morning commute the next day.”
As Netflix has moved to meet that demand, it’s thrown up some surprising insights.
“We noticed that members in some Asian markets had very long commute times and weren’t able to enjoy titles without disruption to their signal. So we introduced the download feature on mobile phones to meet this need. After this feature was launched, it was fascinating to see that members across the world were using this feature, signalling that it was a universally relevant need. So while we had picked up the need in India, it’s a very real benefit for commuters on the tube in London too.
“This demonstrates that while trends can be picked up in one part of the world, they can be just as relevant on the other side of the world,” Morgan adds.
Much of Morgan’s role is built around listening to feedback from people.
“A big part of my job is to listen to people talk about their impressions of products and brands and I’ve mostly worked for household names, so many dinner party conversations turn into unofficial focus groups about the company I work for.”
One thing Morgan wasn’t able to discuss at dinner was Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a project shrouded in secrecy until its surprise launch, but one which Morgan now rates as a career highlight.
“Working on Black Mirror: Bandersnatch has been a career highlight for sure. It was a very top-secret project, so I didn’t tell anyone I was working on it until it came out. It’s exciting to be part of bringing this whole category of entertainment to Netflix — and the world.”
Morgan finds meaning in her work through the opportunities it provides to connect Netflix customers with stories and storytellers.
Citing titles such as Spanish La Casa de Papel and Indian Sacred Games, she maintains it’s about more than just giving people something to watch from the couch or on their morning commute to the office.
“Netflix is all about entertainment, but at the heart of what we’re trying to do is to connect people to stories and storytellers from around the world.”