Thursday, June 20, 2013

Curiously, agressively anti-social

As previously mentioned Certain business models limit you to certain marketing approaches. For example, the standard model for scripted cable series is to run weekly for about three months usually following long story arcs with start dates varying from show to show. This model lends itself to promotion through blogs and social media and it may not be a coincidence that original, scripted shows have increased greatly in popularity and influence over the past dozen years along with social media. When it works well, these shows can create a powerful weekly cycle of buzz and feedback starting with Twitter traffic during the actual broadcast and building from there.

The sheer volume of tweets, posts and podcasts we're talking about is astounding and it's made even more valuable because it bypasses our normal anti-advertising filters. These are people we know recommending a show. What's more, there's a tremendous social norming aspect. Watching the show become part of what's expected.

Keeping that in mind, think about the Netflix direct-to-binge model. Social media thrives on having a critical mass of people sharing a common experience.  With a shows like House of Cards, the kind sustained build-up you see with a Game of Thrones is impossible and even an ordinary discussion requires you to find a group who are at same point in the viewing.

Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix, responds to this concern with a truly extraordinary statement:
“No one has ever watched anything on Netflix that they couldn’t watch all at once,” Sarandos said. There was no interest in changing that model for a new group of originals. But that not only meant changing consumer behavior, it also meant dealing with the realities of today’s social network environment.

Sarandos called it a “different style of watercooler etiquette.” Rather than having to deal with the weekly conversation that is produced, viewers need to ask each other which episodes they’re watching and dealing [sic] with that. Still, the strategy seems to be paying off, as viewers are continuing to tune in.
(quick aside: "paying off" implies improvement over what would have happened otherwise. By this standard you could argue that having disgusting bathrooms "pays off" for a filling station as long as someone still buys gas there.)

Sarandos is saying that part of the company's strategy is to get viewers to engage in less word of mouth promotion. That's an amazing position, hoping that people will refrain from conversation until everyone has had a chance to catch up on all thirteen hours of a show. Of course, by the time that happens (assuming it ever does), the show will be an old topic for the people who watched it when it first came out.

In an age where social media is generally considered the inevitable wave of the future, Netflix is launching a programming model based on people talking less about their shows. It's possible that there's some method to the madness here.

Of course, it's also possible these people haven't thought this through.

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