Dear Netflix: quit sucking at everything and do what you do well instead.
Positioning has been a big point of my internal dialogue lately. As a generalist, your work is seen as a commodity, whereas specialists within a field and/or market segment are more often seen as invaluable strategic partners who deliver tangible value to their clients.
I was a Netflix customer back when physical movies were mailed via USPS back and forth. Only typing this now do I realize how obsolete that sounds – on par with landlines and phones that just phone. Nevertheless, in the early Ots, it was a novel concept with a huge following as the Netflix catalog put every nearby Blockbuster to shame, and eventually out-of-business.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Netflix has gone through a number of growing pains around phasing out the physical subscription options and moving to a complete digital streaming operation. What we now have in terms of “convenience factor” from Netflix, we’ve lost in titles available for streaming.
As part of their shift as a digital company, Netflix has also begun producing high-quality original content, on par with anything major networks are producing. Series such as Master of None, Black Mirror, The Get Down, Stranger Things, & House of Cards are as good as anything currently on network television, while their movie catalog continues to shrink and stagnate. Just Google “netflix catalog sucks” for more on that.
So, back to positioning. If I were in charge of such a strategy at Netflix, my approach would be two-fold:
1. Build the Netflix Brand and UX Around Original Content
Currently, Netflix is viewed as a generalist. They do it all but aren’t noted for doing anything particularly well. They have some movies and shows, but not a deep enough (and ever-shrinking) catalog to warrant the monthly subscription costs for most customers. They have some great original programming, but it’s often overlooked and lost in the weeds among viewers who are seeking familiar, brand name titles. Meanwhile, they are piling on debt and pouring billions (6 billion to be exact) into original programming with the goal of being 50% original content within the next few years.
However, the Netflix brand and experience is still caught in the middle trying to appeal to everyone, when it should be built around their fantastic original programming. Simply compare media powerhouse HBO’s homepage with that of Netflix’s. One provider features content, while the other is stuck trying to explain their business model.
2. Quit Releasing All Your Shows at Once
Perhaps there is a business reason for releasing all episodes of a series in bulk, but I’ve thought long and hard about what that might be and keep coming up short. Yes, I get the hype factor of “binge-watching,” but then what? It’s like winning the lottery, taking the lump sum, and heading to Vegas. By the third or fourth episode, viewers have completely zoned out and now that original content you’ve worked so hard on simply turns into background noise for whatever is happening on their phone. There’s a reason the week-after-week format has proven to be so successful for cable programming; hint: it keeps viewers coming back for more.
Again, HBO has this figured out. Think about the success and viewerships of shows like Game of Thrones and True Detectives. Yes, people could wait and subscribe after all the shows have aired and binge-watch, but more often than not, they don’t. Part of the appeal of television is being part of the conversation, which doesn’t happen with the Netflix bulk-release model.