Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1048: What's Next For Netflix?

Video streaming & rental service Netflix is flush with the critical praise and viewers its first forays into original programming are bringing in, and are already thinking of expanding their production slate.

Personally, I say go for it.

But what should they make?

They're already considering making original movies (good idea), news programming (bad idea), and talk shows (so-so idea).

Original movies are a fine and dandy idea. Netflix can either acquire independently made films for broadcast, or develop and produce them in house. If they keep an eye out for quality, and keep costs down they can do pretty well out of it.

News is a different story. There are so many cable and network news outlets the competition is cutthroat and setting up a television news operation from scratch would be prohibitively expensive. 

However, that doesn't mean they can't be topical. A broad selection of documentary programming can be either made or obtained inexpensively, and if sold well can find an audience. Just remember that I'm suggesting a broad selection of documentaries. Only deliver one sided lectures and you'll end up offending one side of the political fence and boring the other. Audiences love it when differing opinions clash and having their own challenged with reasoned arguments.

Talk shows are a tricky beast. TV history is littered with the corpses of failed talk shows. If Netflix is going to do it, they must avoid doing anything that a mainstream network or syndicated show might do. I'm talking going for niche target audiences, more long form discussions involving interesting people and topics.

So what else can Netflix look into?

Let's think...

SKETCH COMEDY: Nowadays network television cannot do sketch comedy if their life depended on it. A lot of sketch on cable aims to be "topical" which means that it will be "dated" about a day after its debut. However, it can be made cheaply, and a cruise through YouTube shows that there is a wealth of talent out there waiting to be cruelly exploited.

I would suggest a show featuring rotating groups of sketch performers recruited either on-line, or through an aggressive talent hunt. To help promote the shows include sample sketches as "Bonus Features" on comedy programming aimed at similar target demographics, and release them via the YouTube and other sites.

LITERARY ADAPTATIONS: This is an offshoot of the original movies and miniseries idea. There are loads of books, and book series that can be adapted into movies, miniseries, or even full series that don't because dealing with most of the studios and the mainstream networks is just too gruelling and unsatisfying.

Make that experience creatively fulfilling and financially fair and you could become the first choice for all the big best-sellers for less than what the studios pay out.

Those are some of my ideas, what are yours?


  1. Rainforest Giant here,

    Adaptions are the way to go. Horror and scifi are very poorly served market niches. Brand loyalty could be easily achieved. Drop any PC bias and concerns at the door and do a better job than Syfy channel. They'll have fans clogging the net signing up.

    Some stuff they could do cheaply, "Dies the Fire" series by Stirling (he has a habit of writing "Buffy Warrior" type pixie women but nobody's perfect), Monster Hunter series by Correia, anything by Krattman.

    Rainforest Giant

  2. They already did "Hemlock Griove", which was frankly a third-rate horror series (from what little of it I saw).

    All those ideas are good- I don't see them moving into topical sketch comedy, though, because their approach has been big-budget series of movies with months or years lead time. Unless you get different production teams with a totally different philosophy, I don't see netflix doing that. (I posed a qusetion to Furious D a few weeks ago suggseting that the web-TV outfits would do a better job of this.)

    What I don't understand is: how Netflix is making money off this new programming. "House of Cards", for example, cost around $100m to make, according to press reports. (I may be getting the number wrong but it was in that neighborhood). Marketing costs were not zero but not as high as big-budget movies. Yet they didn't charge anything over the regular netflix monthly fee. Perhaps the buzz attracted new subscribers; perhaps the money from those monthly subscribers allowed for new productions above and beyond the regular cost for *all* their other existing programming; perhaps those numbers are big enough to be comparable to, say, HBO's or other premium cable with the extra premium fees coming in. I doubt it, though. Would be interesting to see the numbers.. except Netflix doesn't publish them. Unlike Nielsen ratings, it's all internal and proprietary. Whatever the viewership, and however, it's measured, it's not supported by advertising or *extra* paid subscriptions- the two pillars of the TV business.

    With that in mind, if the numbers dont' add up, Netflix might end up as just the latest in the crop of rich outsiders that come to Hollywood to blow their money on glamor and vanity projects. (Hello Meghan Ellison.) Did the marginal, incremental, measureable return from "House of Cards" (production + marketing) or "Hemlock Grove" or "Orange is the New Black" equal or exceed their costs + some reasonable return (20%)? If so, kudos to them: they've created a new (or modified) business model, and they have succesfully followed the path of AMC and others to significantly boost their brand and audience. If not, as I doubt, they'll stop making expensive new productions as soon as the money runs out.

    The usual indicators of this are ratings/box office, but as noted, Netflix has a very unique, big-data way of analyzing this, which is not made public (in a strikingly unsurprising parallel to studio accounting.) So outsiders may never know.

    That said, Netflix is obviously the best entry by far in this space, which includes Hulu (owned by the networks!), YouTube, Amazon, and others. Which makes me wonder- why them and not the other tech big boys? Did Reed Hastings set out to do this by hiring some seasoned content people years ago and just leeting them run-? How does that team compare to others in the industry? The questions suggest their own answers, but I wonder if anyone else knows.

  3. hey furious D- bet you saw these: