When it comes to streaming, it’s still a fertile land, but Netflix does have the advantage of being first to the front line.
These were some of the thoughts from Netflix’s VP of Original Content Cindy Holland today at the INTV conference in Jerusalem, Israel during her sitdown with Keshet Media Group CEO Avi Nir who moderated the discussion.
“On-demand television is in its very early stages, and there’s many opportunities for other companies to be successful,” said Holland.
While Disney+ nor Warner Media’s streaming service weren’t specifically mentioned in the conversation, Holland said that Netflix is “leading the way in the on-demand television revolution. The companies that stay rooted in historical distribution models, for example, mainly television, they’ll find themselves quite challenged.”
In regards to rising Silicon Valley competitors in the streaming space, i.e. Facebook and Google, Holland said “we’re different from the large tech companies…they’re uncurated platforms. We’re a paid subscription service.”
“Our first priority is to entertain the members in our worlds, and if we don’t do that, we won’t continue to thrive in our world,” said Holland.
While traditional TV networks are tethered to ratings due to advertisers, and Netflix doesn’t have to necessarily worry about that, the streamer decides what works, based on their internal metrics of audiences’ tastes, and the projections they make off it.
“We’re sizing up the audience and how much to invest. If that audience doesn’t show up to that level, what is the reason to continue to invest as we hoped?,” explained Holland on programming decisions, “If there’s critical acclaim, that’s important to us, we’re about stretching investment dollars as far as we can; making good investments of our members’ money.”
“By the first 28 days,” said Holland, the streaming giant has a good idea if they’ve reached their viewership objectives for a particular series. Netflix viewership data also helps the streamer spot the white areas, where there might be an unseen opportunity for content.
Speaking of viewership data, Holland revealed that most subscribers watch the platform on their TVs over mobile phones though the latter is growing. Average members watch two hours a day with weekends and holiday viewing being higher than weekdays as that’s when audiences have more time.
Being involved in the DVD business early on, “gave us insight into the eclectic taste of our members” said Holland and that type of data insight enabled Netflix to provide content for every audience, not just one.
“When we went into original content, we could offer a narrow set of titles for a specific demographic, but our business was much deeper,” said Holland. The key was creating title brands, and a “personalization” for subscribers so they could find the content they want to watch.
Holland also detailed the early benchmarks for Netflix: House of Cards was a series meant to “define what Netflix” would be, that subscribers could see premium content as good as that on pay TV.
“We didn’t have an original content strategy when we commissioned House of Cards,” said Holland, “Will networks stop selling to us? We thought they probably would or that they’d allocate for their own services.” Transforming from a DVD rent-by-mail business to what Netflix is today, Holland said, “the question was how to grow the DVD business…to then grow to some form on the internet. That was the simple plan of the company.”
House of Cards clicking was obvious given David Fincher’s pedigree, but Orange Is The New Back wasn’t so on the nose, and a surprise success.
“Nobody saw it coming,” said Holland about the diverse women-in-prison concept. “It was a real gamble for us and it made so many careers for people. Uzo (Aduba) was going to quit trying to be a working actor. Her journey was only suppose to be a three episode-arc, the writers saw that, and said we had to keep writing,” explained Holland.
“That show wasn’t suppose to work around the world, and then it did, and it was a real moment of pride for us,” said the Netflix exec.
Meanwhile, Netflix observed how teens were underserved with premium content, and Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why forged the way into that demo. Conventional wisdom said that Stranger Things should be from the cop’s POV, but Netflix swung for the fences and stuck with the kids, “it was a misfit family, the sense of wonder, and the sense of family in addition to some scares and the supernatural,” said Holland.
“Narcos gave us the confidence to invest in non-English content,” said Holland who says that one of the primary mandates for Netflix is “providing content for the 190 countries we serve.”
“If a series resonates in its home market, it is likely to travel,” said Holland, “what we discovered with Narcos is that drugs and thugs were popular everywhere.”