Tag Archives: content strategy

Why Netflix Needs a Mobile Content Strategy

Netflix is killin it and I continue to be bullish on their future. There’s one corner of the business I’m afraid they’re being just a little too pensive about: mobile.

This year, they’ve launched some of their first short-form programming and some new native portrait features in their mobile apps. But I’m afraid this won’t stop other mobile competitors — Google and Facebook — from locking them out of this critical piece of the entertainment pie. Now is the time for them to begin spending in the mobile content space and here’s how they should begin.

Why mobile is critical to Netflix

Let’s start with why Netflix should care.

There’s an obvious massive market of short form video consumption, well-proven by YouTube and Facebook. 34% of global internet video traffic is shortform. So, when Netflix says they’re competing with all forms of entertainment, this seems like an obvious adjacent area to pick up some additional engagement — whereas interactive, live and sports are much more of a moonshot.

But I think all of that frames this as a business expansion opportunity when I actually think this is a threat to Netflix’s stranglehold on the streaming market. Have a look at this graph, which explains the userflow of new subscribers to the service.

When this slide first broke, a lot of emphasis was put on the fact that after 6 months, 70% of Netflix subscribers were watching on a big TV. What stands out to me is that 10% are STILL watching on a mobile phone. Just 1 month in, more than 15% are still struggling to watch long form TV shows and movies on a tiny mobile screen. And right from the getgo, a full THIRD of Netflix’s new users start on a mobile device.

We are in a mobile world and who cares that people watch more content on their mobile phones — people TRANSACT more on their mobile phones. Enough people subscribe to Netflix straight through iOS that they’re trying to bypass Apple altogether — another sign of just how many folks sign up on mobile. Given that Netflix’s model is dependent on one giant transaction at the top of the funnel (their subscription), many more of their new customers are entering their ecosystem through mobile phones. And this user flows shows just how long it takes that mobile customer to begin finding big-screen-TV-type-value in their subscription. Were Netflix to actually provide valuable mobile content during that couple-month transition, they’d reduce churn among new users. (Still another strategy would be a freemium model of mobile-only content to lure users through the paywall when they realize the app’s value on another screen.)

What Netflix is already trying in mobile

Netflix is not completely blind to this. They’ve launched a few new short-form originals and mobile products this year. For those trying to reverse-engineer their mobile content strategy, here’s a recap of their short form content:

  • The Comedy Lineup (15 minutes) – Mini stand-up comedy specials
  • Explained (14-18 minutes) – Newsmagazine (Vox)
  • Follow This (16-18 minutes) – Newsmagazine (Buzzfeed)
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (12-25 minute) – Celebrity interviews with Jerry Seinfeld
  • Marching Orders (12 minutes) – Docuseries
  • Cooking on High (14 minutes) – Competition reality

In the scheme of Netflix’s $6 billion content spend, I’d call this an extremely modest beginning — it’s really just a test. It’s heavy on news and unscripted, there are no filmmakers, high-value talents or standout IPs. I estimate their 2018 spend on short form around $20MM at most. To make a meaningful move into mobile, they’ll need to spend 5-10x that.

How Netflix could form a mobile content strategy

It’s clear that Netflix needs to get into the mobile content game ASAP. But how? So many short form content platforms from go90 to Watchable have flamed out because of a lack of distribution.

Broadly, I’d approach this similarly to the rest of Netflix’s business:

  1. START FAST with a mountain of inexpensive mobile content that’s easy and fast to launch.
  2. PIVOT TO PREMIUM – Use the analytics gathered from starting fast to inform a mobile Originals strategy and finance exclusive new series.

Why this two-part strategy always works is the subject of a whole other blog post. But Netflix is in a unique position to build a war chest of start-fast mobile content at a low cost-per minute without sacrificing their premium values. Step one of fast/easy/quick mobile content — pretty obvious — is licensing. Now is a fantastic time to cheaply license premium mobile content. Every mobile content studio is clamoring to work with Netflix which earns them outrageous leverage. Plus, many of them were gifted back go90 or other mobile series that they have no place to distribute. The second source of start-fast content is probably less obvious: the content they already have. Netflix outright owns a lot of their shows and by getting creative, they’ll find a new life if they’re re-cut for a shorter runtime or carefully cropped for a vertical screen.

When audiences coalesce around their start-fast mobile content, they can decide where it makes sense to pivot to premium, maintain licenses or trim back.

In sum, I think mobile is a crucial growth area for Netflix and a place they have some natural competitive advantages. They could quickly turn a source of churn into a new source of revenue and expansion. I predict they’ll make some dedicated moves in this space but it’s going to take a larger commitment to realize the potential mobile content has in Netflix’s future.

The Most Important Thing About Creating Content Or: The Secret to Great Content Strategy

Have you ever watched a show and thought this show is perfect for me? Maybe a movie?

Screenshot of Matthew McConaughey in True Detective observing the opening crime sceneThe last time this happened to me was True Detective on HBO. It had a cast I love, a plot that intrigued me and cinematography I admired. That seems like a lot of expensive reasons to like a show: world class writing, acting and filmmaking!

People love all sorts of content. What do they all have in common? Some of my colleagues would say story, many would say character. But then how would you explain that some people hate a certain book… even though it’s a great story? How would you explain BuzzFeed or ESPN? How would you explain a stand-up comedian? Story and character don’t really explain those things… especially not why people love those things.

That’s because the most important part of creating content people will love is… understanding what people love. It’s the “understanding” part that’s important. It’s understanding them deeply — what they want and need. How they spend their spare time. Their fantasies and fears. In one word, it’s empathy.

Most people don’t think of it this way, but great content that you love is engineered to be that way. It’s not an accident that you like the shows you do. It’s usually not just some guy making something that he alone thinks is perfect for himself — at least not if it’s a show you love.

Great creators get inside your head, take out your thoughts and wants… then give it right back to you.

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards being turned down for Secretary of StateThe process of doing this kind of research and thinking is the essence of what some people call “content strategy.” Here’s a clear and perhaps simplified version I can think of and you may have heard of it before. It’s how House of Cards was allegedly developed. Have you seen that? If you have, you probably liked that it starred Kevin Spacey, thrilled you like a thriller and had a creepy tensions that’s probably hard to describe. Well, none of this was a mistake. Netflix found in its data that:

  • Netflix users like Kevin Spacey
  • Same with their computer-generated genre “political thrillers”
  • It also showed that films by David Fincher are popular — he produced House of Cards and his involvement leaves you with that hard-to-pin-down creepy feeling… you’ll sense this pacing and style in other movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Social Network
  • (Bonus: The DVDs of the original House of Cards mini-series were also popular among Netflix’s by-mail customers)

In fact, Netflix was so certain of their content strategy here that they didn’t ask the producers to do a pilot of it.

This actually makes a ton of sense! What does a pilot really do? It’s engineered to get into a different kind of head: a development executive’s head! A great pilot empathizes with a development exec by¬†introducing the characters and showing them the direction of the show. It’s not really for the audience. You don’t have to sell a show to the viewer in the very first episode if you already know they love Kevin Spacey, David Fincher and political thrillers. You’re reading their mind already. The pilot doesn’t matter — it’s a homerun for that audience.

And a homerun for an audience entertains them. And the key to entertaining them is understanding what they want. And truly understanding someone — truly getting them — that’s empathy. I have a literally religious obsession with that word, empathy. And that’s why I think it’s the most important part of creating content.

Next time you create something, think less about what you like. Consider what people like you like. And you’ll know you’re creating something they’ll love.