Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What does Netflix really want? Look at the content quadrants

To make sense of the company's approach toward original content, it is useful to think in terms of long-term IP value vs the hype-genic, those programs that lend themselves to promotion by being awards friendly or newsworthy. For example, a talk show would be in the high hype/low IP quadrant. You have famous people saying topical, interesting, sometimes even important things. The articles pretty much write themselves, but in terms of IP, the genre has a shelf life somewhere between a ripe peach and a properly refrigerated gallon of milk. After over 60 years, the best anyone has managed to do is package a few low rated, niche programs for nostalgia channels out of the absolute cream of the genre. The same goes for art films like Beasts of No Nation and documentaries like Icarus (and no, the bump in IP value that Oscar bestows is not worth what Netflix paid to get it). Easy to book the creators on Fresh Air but don't count on any real viewership five years from now.

By comparison, as previously mentioned, the bulk of the Netflix children's slate has no IP value whatsoever. Since journalists outside of the entertainment industry have little interest in the segment and no understanding of its importance, this falls in the low hype/low IP quadrant. Licensing high name recognition kids shows is essential for building the subscriber base, but it is strictly a short-term investment.

When you start categorizing the various shows according to quadrant, keeping in mind the additional goals of building the subscriber base and not spending money too wastefully (even Netflix has its limits), you can't help but notice that the distribution is not at all consistent with what you would expect given the stated goals and strategy of the company.

We can quibble over some of the classifications. Despite its coult status, Stranger Things arguably falls into the high/high quadrant. What about the Crown? Historical costume dramas have sometimes proven to have legs, but the record is mixed and it's difficult to see how Netflix will ever compete with BBC catalog.

Quibbles aside, it is fairly obvious that Netflix has a strong preference for shows that are easy to promote and that a significant portion of their original content budget (and presumably virtually all of their remaining content budget) is going toward shows that contribute little or nothing to the content library. If Netflix really is playing the wildly ambitious, extremely long term game that forms the basis for the company's standard narrative and justifies incredible amounts of money investors are pouring in, then this distribution makes no sense whatsoever. If, on the other hand, the company is simply trying to keep the stock pumped up until they can find a soft landing spot, it makes all the sense in the world.

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