Well, it’s that time of the week again. Time for me to excoriate yet another article that sings the praises of Netflix. Some might begin to think that I dislike Netflix, I wouldn’t invest in it, or that I got into a fight with Reed Hastings at the Sun Valley Conference in an Idahoan bar.
No. Hatred is not at play here. I think Netflix is a great business, and they are doing great things for both consumers and creators. They just aren’t doing things as greatly as some might have them being.
Enter, Patrick Burns, who recently wrote a piece on medium.com, telling the World Wide Web that Netflix is disrupting the entertainment business. I guess we could nitpick over semantics of what that means, but after reading the piece, Burns’ obvious definition of disruption involves believing that Reed Hastings is the reincarnation of Jesus.
Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch, but he does think a little too highly of Netflix’s two most recent moves, which involved co-financing the sequel of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and signing Adam Sandler to a 4-flick pac that has Billy Madison Productions next four movies being owned by Netflix Originals.
Let me start by saying, that neither of these deals is “game-changing” or “disruptive,” as Mr. Burns put it. Instead, they are mere duplications of moves made yesteryear. The Weinstein Company is, at the moment of this blog post’s creation, doing the exact same day-and-date release deal with Yahoo Screen that it just inked with Netflix. So as we speak, you can find one of their newest movies, “One Chance,” in a movie theater near you, or at Yahoo’s web portal…both equally significant in their cultural relevancy. And the deal with Adam Sandler is only unique in that it’s Adam Sandler, but Adam requires a lot of star power around him to make a movie successful today, and we’ve seen many stars try new platforms. Louis C.K. is the perfect example of that.
You’re not game-changing and disruptive unless you’re actually changing or disrupting the game, like a go-ahead home run in the 7th inning, or scoring a date with somebody allegedly out of your league for the first time. Netflix, in this analogy, is merely the the guy who gets asked out to the Prom by the person that everybody else turned down.
Mr. Burns went on to say that these moves are emblematic of Netflix being great for the consumer. Specifically, he suggested that Netflix eliminates consumers having to wait for movies. Except it doesn’t. You don’t think when these movies come out that they’re going to be marketed like all hell, and you’ll be in full-on anticipation for months before you can stream them to your connected TV? Besides, anticipation isn’t always bad. It keeps you coming back. For some shows on Netflix, I watch them all in 1 day, and then realize I have to wait 364 days before I can see it again…or 365 in a leap year. And because of that wait, I tend to watch the next season all in one day all over again.
Burns also believes Netflix’s latest 2 movies are great for the creator, citing more “funding” and “stability” as reasons. I don’t understand that at all. Sure, it adds more dollars to the ecosystem, so perhaps more creators can get involved, but where’s the stability coming from? There’s no additional stability in Hollywood because Netflix is buying movies. Maybe Adam Sandler’s future income is a little more predictable, but let’s not pretend as if Netflix came along Oprah-style and started putting cars under everyone’s chairs. Also, the same creators that have been getting all the gigs in Hollywood, are the same ones Netflix is going to reach out to, because its likely afraid to spend so much money on unproven talent–especially given that Netfix doesn’t know how to run a studio.
Last, but not least, was the author’s point that Netflix is using a trove of data that’s going to give it an advantage over media companies by knowing what to watch.
That’s just not a proven ability at all.
I’ll be the first one to say that media companies are lagging in their use of data, but trying to predict the future of content is not something they haven’t tried in the past and present. Studios and networks have been putting together algorithms and panels to gather consumer insights and data points for decades now. Sure it’s not Netflix-level data with what show the customer watched, where they watched a show, and for how long, but it’s pretty-damn refined. Not to mention, not everything Netflix makes is “Orange is the new Black,” or “House of Cards.” There are some “Lillyhammers” and “Bad Samaritans” floating around in the Netflix ecosystem, so how much of an advantage is that data after all? If there were some magical computer bean to tell studios and TV networks what audiences would like, there wouldn’t be any bad TV on TV. But there is. And it’s all because we can’t predict crap.
Netflix was good for a lot of things. It killed Blockbuster and the need to walk out of your house to rent a movie. It brought premium content streaming to your laptop. It helped you discover TV shows you didn’t even know you’d like. And it brought Frank Underwood into your life. But it’s not upending the entertainment business. We still go to the movies, watch TV live and buy DVDs and ESTs. Netflix may be adding to the ecosystem, but taking away from it? Not so much…yet.