It truly is a glorious time to be a fan of watching TV. With the sheer volume of high quality shows that we have at our disposal, regardless of what the traditional TV studios are saying, viewing numbers have never been higher. It has been quite daunting for the business of TV with some studio heads crying that there is actually too much choice available for people. Think about that. He is complaining that there are too many options for us.
One of the biggest reasons that we are experiencing this renaissance is what I like to call The Netflix Effect. While this idea might seem like common sense to most of you, the why behind it’s success may surprise you.
We all know about the leveraging of data, the shrewd business moves and the unprecedented commitement to providing a safe haven of easily accessible content. What we don’t really talk about is how these things are simply part of a major bigger framework that allows the company a nimbleness that has become the envy of an industry now in serious trouble.
All of the press that Netflix gets around this may make it seem easy to mimick, however, without the proper mindset in place a challenger brand will always be the drunk family member at Christmas dinner that we have to pay attention to, never the innovator.
And that is the case with Netflix as the brand’s success is not based on these things we all talk about. These factors are simply the tools that support that core thing that drives every move it makes. This idea that provides cover to things like media agency politics influencing the type of content being made. A strategy that has allowed a brand loyalty of unprecedented level:
Invest in the story and then make it as easy as possible for the audience to have access to it.
There is no no talk around measurement and things like ratings. In fact there have been many instances where the showrunners have no idea about viewership numbers as Netflix guards all kinds of data like this ferociously.
This investment in providing the framework for an experience users actually want has the streamer firmly placed at the centre of this newly created viewing universe. As a result, Netflix has created the blueprint for the next generation of what TV will look like in both content creation as well distribution.
And all it took was looking at why the TV industry was on a decline while online usage was on a meteoric rise – that not only was distribution of shows tragically out of date, but the way the shows themselves were created was fundamentally broken. What allowed Netflix to really cement its leadership position was that they had the guts to experiment with what they found to create a model informed by their viewers directly. Which is in stark contrast to the traditional methodology of making TV Shows.
Up until now TV industry has built itself on a wait and see process. They create a pilot, test the crap out of it and then air it if they deem fit. If it does make it to air, this new show only gets a pilot and a handful of episodes to see if it will be kept on the air. If it does make it pass the first few episodes it either gets a full season order (which is getting rarer and rarer these days) or bigger and bigger chunks of the series is made until it reaches the full season order. And there are no guarantees if it does make it to the end of season one. How many shows have you dived all into only to have it cancelled with a very shitty show being picked up instead.
This is a model driven by economics with decisions made by people who are not creative or understand audience needs. They are usually made up of media agencies whose concern is leveraging viewership to make a big corporate entity or brand happy. I can only imagine what the TV landscape would have been like if studios had the balls to let potentially brilliant shows develop (I’m looking at you NBC for cancelling the brilliant Journeyman or the WB for cancelling Angel).
The resulting environment centred around commerce not creativity means that writers can’t properly craft a story or narrative. The net result is that audiences have a tougher time becoming fans of a particular show due to the tentative nature of creative. It’s not fair to the people creating the shows and the people watching.
And when things are not fair, that’s when the opportunity for disruption presents itself.
On the other end of the spectrum, when Netflix greenlights a show, they give it what is called a full season order – all the episodes the showrunner says it needs to tell the story regardless of whether it’s a drama or a comedy. This allows a writer to commit to telling a story as opposed having to ensure ratings so that they can live to fight another day.
To Netflix, a viewer is a viewer is a viewer and it is its job to make them happy. Period.
Which brings me to the second part of the equation that really has been inspiring to see unfold as someone who has no issue how I get my content because for me it’s about the best TV experience I can give myself. The networks have shown me for years that they don’t give a shit about what I think. Cancelling shows without giving them a chance, cable companies charging me exorbiant fees to simply access TV signals that can be found free via digital antennae just so I can be served shitty TV commercials, and don’t even get me started on the Super Bowl crap.
For Netflix, its ability to seemingly transcend both technology and borders has been a major factor to its growth. And the funny thing is that the company itself doesn’t do much except to allow people to access its content however they want, whenever they want – even if that means that some of it is a bit of a grey area. Sharing passwords are welcome. VPN’s while politically frowned upon aren’t really stopped. And industry stalwarts like ratings and its subset of demographic breakdowns are shunned. Even screen size is not judged as cell phones are equally as important to Netflix as a 60” flat screen.
Conversely, while Amazon, HBO, CBS and all the others now offer content online, it is still being served up in a manner that sits squarely within the old ways. Geo-restrictions being the biggest culprit, if I want to watch Amazon’s highly entertaining Mozart In The Jungle, I have to use the Canadian service that officially has the rights up here in Canada, Shomi. The funny thing is that the Shomi offering is only a recent entrant in the market up here that stumbled out of the gate by allowing the service only to the customers of its corporate parent – Rogers and Shaw. Bell not be left out of the mix launched Crave TV however similarly with a huge amount of restrictions. (MobileSyrup does a great breakdown of the difference of service here).
Between this late to the game entry and the dippity do dance of online streaming rights by country, one guess as to how I got my hands on the Amazon show years before it was even allowed up here. Torrents.
And this commerce first thinking is doing what it does when the market undegoes a fundamental shift like this as one of the biggest players in the market is having its ass handed to them because they can’t keep up with how people consuming content. Their insistence on sticking to the old ways will be their undoing.
This is the unique and fundamental thing that Netflix understands. Its about the behaviour. People have a voracious appetite for great content. With the world sucking right now on a pretty macro level, people really, really love their Shows as a means of escapism. And of course Netflix is listening committing to over 600 hours of original programming in 2016 alone (a huge increase up from 2015) to supplement its already deep library of shows with a past life. This is right up there with the regular networks with one huge difference, Netflix is going all in with everyone of its shows giving them full season orders right off the bat where is the networks always just dip their toes in with their model of wait and see economics.
We are only at that beginning of this fundamental shift in how we watch TV. What we know as TV is no longer the case. And quite frankly, as viewers we don’t care. And that is a huge problem for the traditional media companies that create television. But it’s not a problem for us thanks to Netflix.