“I’m in for a decade.”
Those five words from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings—on the heels of announcing that the company just added more subscribers in April through June than it has ever added in the second quarter in its history, more than 10 million, and that he’d be sharing the CEO role with chief content officer Ted Sarandos—should send terror into the rest of Hollywood. This team has consistently kicked the butt of traditional Hollywood for the last 20 years, so the notion that they have another 10 years of being pushed into the dirt by these two has to be nothing less than terrifying.
To give you a handful of examples of why Netflix is now an essential service and only perhaps Disney Plus deserves to be in any conversation as a serious contender:
Netflix wants consumers “never [to] have to think about any of those other services,” Hastings said during the company’s quarterly earnings video. “Occasionally, there’s a Hamilton, and you’re going to go to someone else’s service for an extraordinary film,” but the goal is to obviate the need to consider any alternative barring something truly special.
While would-be rivals downplay even the existence of a “streaming war,” one company—Netflix—can say whatever it wants, because what matters is that it’s the only one acting as if there is a war for people’s entertainment budget and attention and it’s determined to win. To learn today that even amid COVID-19-related production delays, Netflix still expects to release more content in 2021 than 2020 is jaw-dropping. Its two most recent competitors, HBO Max and Peacock, opted for a slimmed-down effort to launch their services, with one betting on a Friends reunion and the other betting on the Summer Olympics, both of which blew up once the global pandemic took hold.
A holistic view of serving its customer
One thing that has hamstrung both HBO Max and Peacock are their collective inability to negotiate with two of the primary devices customers use to enjoy streaming TV: Amazon and Roku. Perhaps it’s the “old TV mindset” that these new streamers’ legacy company parents (WarnerMedia and Comcast) are bringing to the table, according to Variety. They have long gotten used to either hijacking other content providers who want access to its platforms or trying to hijack rival ones to pay a premium for their content.
What you’re not hearing from either company is what you heard from Netflix executives on Thursday evening when asked about the aggregators-as-gatekeepers debate. Newly named chief operating officer Greg Peters went on at length about “working together to create better Netflix experiences” on devices around the world. “It’s great for the device manufacturers because those experiences make those devices more attractive, and most importantly and ultimately it’s a win for consumers to be the benefactors” of those collective efforts. “We have whole teams working [to help device makers] to ingest the technology that we produce for those experiences and how do we leverage the qualities and features of those devices that those manufacturers are investing in on their side to really show off those benefits.”
In other words, one doesn’t need to treat these negotiations like yet another cable-customer stickup.
“The billboard on the front of that UI, you just click it and watch it and trust that result.”
That’s what Hastings stated as the company’s goal when consumers open the Netflix app. One can quibble with the likelihood of the company ever achieving this goal, but because Netflix is the only streaming service with no additional business motive than keeping you as a customer of its app, it’s an algorithmic North Star that’s far less suspect than anyone selling advertising, merchandise, theme-park tickets, broadband, or paper towels. If Netflix learns what it can about you to keep you happy, it’s a closed-loop virtuous feedback system. It’s not an on-ramp to a bevy of other stuff. Seemingly no one else comes to streaming determined to make money from . . . streaming. And that appears to drive Netflix in a way that has made it nigh impossible to compete with.
The last thing of note that Hastings and Sarandos—who appeared to be in Netflix’s famed lobby in its L.A. headquarters but socially distanced enough that the two didn’t even acknowledge that they were within the same room—discussed on Thursday’s video was the company’s perspective on franchise building. Sarandos framed it as simply “the act of successful world building” and then cited two examples that upend traditional notions of what constitutes a franchise.
The Old Guard, which just debuted on Netflix last week, does emanate from a comic book, but it brings along enough surprises to the superhero genre that it feels completely fresh. Sarandos suggested that it was the company’s “first attempt at it here . . . a new flavor of that kind of storytelling that I think has got a world and stories for some time to come.”
He then went on to cite La Casa de Papel (aka Money Heist), which is a Netflix original and as Sarandos stressed, the single most-watched new season of TV on Netflix.
There may be more premium streaming services than ever before, but really, there remains only one.