Monday, July 22, 2013

Not really movie people...

Signed up for Netflix recently and one of the things I've noticed is that their blurbs often do an extraordinarily bad job at pitching. Compared to the capsules you'll find from Maltin or TV Guide, they have a tendency to leave out the details that would make a person who would enjoy a movie actually go ahead and watch it.

This is a bigger deal than you might think. Consider the Netflix viewing model:

1. I watch a show;

2. Netflix recommends other shows;

3. Based on the information provided and what I know about the show, I decide whether or not to pay the the cost in time required to watch it.

It isimportant to note that this process adds the most value when it gets me to watch and enjoy a show that I was previously unaware of. Here's where a good blurb is vital. Even if the recommendation model works perfectly, the process is a failure when I don't watch the film it recommends.

With that in mind, check out this Netflix description:
Royal Deceit(Prince of Jutland)
1994R1hr 25m
Young Jute Amled avenges his father's murder at the hands of his dissembling uncle, only to be banished to Scotland for the deed. But Amled has other plans, and soon practices a little deception of his own.
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Helen Mirren, Christian Bale
Genre: Action & Adventure, Dramas, Adventures, Crime Action & Adventure
This movie is: Dark
With the exception of some interesting names in the cast, there's nothing (at least nothing explicit) that would make me want to watch this. That would represent a significant failure for Netflix because the right blurb (from TV Guide) could and did make me watch Royal Deceit on ThisTV a few months ago.

That summary mentioned that the film was directed by Gabriel Axel (1987's BABETTE'S FEAST).

It included Brian Cox, Kate Beckinsale and Tom Wilkinson in the cast list.

And most importantly, it pointed to the aspect of the film most likely to interest the target audience. You may have guessed this part, but if not, here's a hint: in various retellings of the legendary story of this Danish prince,  Amled is often spelled Amleth.

I don't have the TV Guide blurb in front of me but I believe it read a great deal like the first paragraph of their review.
A reworking of Shakespeare's Hamlet, ROYAL DECEIT may lack the Bard's lyrical dialogue but it does boast some sensational action sequences and a truly top-notch cast.
I really do want to see Netflix succeed -- it's a good service for the price and significantly diversifies the media landscape -- but I can't get past the suspicion that the people behind Netflix are bored with the actual business of running the company. They like the part where people call them visionaries and give them a gazillion dollars for their stock, but the low glamour stuff makes their eyes glaze over.

This is one of the reasons I keep going back to Weigel as an example. They obviously love the details (Joe Dale has apparently memorized thousands of TV episodes). When Steve Jobs famously got upset because a headphone jack on an IPod didn't have a satisfying click, he was illustrating this same mentality. You saw similar attitudes in Sam Walton and Don Tyson.

I'm not suggesting that we should judge management based on one anecdote, but the more I look at the company the more it looks like they don't care about details like blurbs and audience demographics. and as someone who wants to see Netflix make it, that wories me.

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