Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Buying a reputation

It is almost always a mistake to make too much of the Emmys. All awards are overrated but Oscars and Tonys do still bring a critical and commercial boost. The Emmys are little more than an expensive pissing contest between network executives.

 It is, however, a very expensive pissing contest. Lots of money goes into ads and PR accounts so some executives can feel better about themselves on Monday (or in this case, Tuesday) morning. West of the 110, those "For Your Emmy Consideration" billboards are pretty much inescapable.

Many of those billboards, perhaps a plurality, were from Netflix. Which makes it telling (though not important) that the company was completely shut out of anything bigger than outstanding guest actress. The company has spent a lot of money trying to snag these awards of questionable value and so far their return on investment has not been good.

Yes, this is another one of those Netflix-bashing posts, but I want to be clear about which Netflix I'm bashing.

I don't have a big problem with the service. Having a Netflix subscription is a bit like having a Kmart on the road you take to work. The quality can be iffy and the selection is bad but it's convenient and you can't beat the price.

As a business, it strikes me as very shaky but it is possible to imagine someone making a go of this. It's not a Groupon-style Ponzi scheme.

What bothers me is Netflix the narrative. More than perhaps any other company, the public face of Netflix is a PR creation. All of the recognized attributes of the company are either puffed-up or invented out of whole cloth. Other than one good, crowd-sourced model,  the company appears to be running on some really crude algorithms and doing little with its admittedly massive data set. Rather than creating an HBO-style content library in-house, it is simply paying exorbitant sums for exclusive first airing, after which the producers can do whatever they please. Reports of various successes all fade on closer examination: Netflix is overtaking competitors (but only if you ignore international markets or compare Netflix's revenues to other industries' profits); Netflix is solidly in the black (but only if you use just the right kind of accounting); Those exclusive shows are huge hits (but only according to vague statements about numbers the company refuses to release*).

The vast majority of the press, up to and including David Carr of the New York Times, is willing to believe an appealing narrative even when it is improbable, unsubstantiated, even contradicted by the facts. That's the part that bothers me.

* There is some external evidence that Orange may be doing quite well.

No comments:

Post a Comment