"I saw what Netflix was doing and thought, 'They could hit some speed bumps because they're paying big, big dollars for content and hoping the subscribers will come,'" recalls Paul Davis.
Davis is the CEO of Coinstar, the self-service retail giant that's the parent company of Redbox, the kiosk-based DVD-rental business. Redbox, which accounts for most of Coinstar's revenues, recently partnered with Verizon to launch a subscription streaming service in response to growing digital competition from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO. Few details about the soon-to-be-unveiled service, called Redbox Instant by Verizon, have been revealed, but as reports continue to pile up indicating that Redbox's physical-disc business has peaked and that Coinstar might even be exploring a potential sale of its most successful subsidiary, there's been ramped up interest from shareholders and media outlets about what the company has planned for its streaming offering in order to prove the brand's viability.
In an interview with Fast Company last week, Davis offered more insight into Redbox Instant, hinting that it may take a different approach to acquiring digital content than what we've already seen from Netflix and its other competitors. "Just to be real candid, we couldn't afford to do [what Netflix has done] on our own, so we would've had to have a curated approach, with a much smaller offering," Davis says. "But then we wondered, 'Are there advantages to partnering with someone who is already in the space?'"
Enter Verizon, the company that Davis believes will not only bolster Redbox's brand but give the company access to a huge network of customers. But when asked what most excites him about the partnership, Davis answers, "[Verizon's] access to digital content."
Content, it's clear, is the biggest differentiator these services can provide in attracting subscribers. It's why Netflix has struck expensive deals with Relativity Media for access to hot movies; it's why Amazon has inked licenses with Warner Bros. for exclusive access to shows such as The West Wing; and it's why many players in the space including Hulu are pursuing original content.
But Davis, on the other hand, hints that Redbox won't be taking a quantity-over-quality approach to acquiring content. Rather, he says, Redbox's offering might look a bit more like the strategy pursued by HBO Go, which features less content but offers viewers access to a fresher, more curated library of movies and shows. "I think there's a point where as consumers, I mean, do you really need 100,000 titles? I mean, really?" Davis says. "We want to keep it very simple, with movies that matter. I think trying to win the war on, you know, here's another 10,000 titles—we have to focus on what's going to be really important for us."
Of Netflix's expansive streaming catalogue, Davis says, "It's overwhelming, and so much of Netflix's offering is TV."
Davis declined to reveal the future price plans of Redbox Instant or how the service will be bundled with Redbox's physical offerings. But past interviews with Coinstar and Redbox executives signal the company is interested in offering subscriptions that combine physical and digital content. Whatever the eventual offering is though, it's clear the emphasis will be on curated content. The Coinstar chief compares the strategy to when Redbox first started competing against Blockbuster for DVD rentals.
"Had Redbox started by trying to replicate what Blockbuster was doing with all this variety, it would've very quickly become too complex," Davis says. "But Redbox said, 'Let's narrow the offering, and let's make it super simple.'"
Expect the same narrow approach for its streaming service and title war with Netflix.