There was a time when the biggest hit in the streaming universe was a little show called “Who Knew?”
The early 2010s breezy news show, that was based in part on what people searched for, ran on Yahoo for over 700 episodes across a half-dozen seasons. Some episodes that deliver 100 million streams each.
Who Knew? Almost no one! But according to Yahoo, those audiences were really there.
Such was the power of the Yahoo homepage back then — a place where so many people checked in on a daily basis, through searches, email checking or other paths. A “hit” show could practically happen by accident there. Before social media really hit its stride, it was one of the most influential web pages on the planet. Why bring this up now? Because Netflix’s home page is starting to enter Yahoo homepage status.
Okay, so Netflix is actually way more potent than Yahoo. But my point is that Netflix’s interface/homepage/app/whatever you call it has reached the point when it can practically engineer hits. It can make or break shows/showrunners in ways I’m not sure we’ve ever seen. I’d argue that aside from Google’s search box, it’s the most powerful web page on the planet.
It may be the most formidable digital destination ever.
And as it exerts its power more and more, Netflix is borderline unstoppable. That already terrifies the majority of the free TV and paid TV ecosystem. It should make the upcoming would-be “Netflix killers” — Disney, Warner, BritBox whatever — shudder.
You’ve surely seen the recently revamped Netflix interface. Instead of searching through an endless Blockbuster bargain bin supply of randomness, you bounce through rows of tiles in very Netflixian categories (like British reality crime documentaries with anti-heroes) that autoplay previews. People have taken to Twitter to joke about the stress it causes.
Netflix auto-playing previews while you browse stresses me out beyond belief
— Bret Taylor (@btaylor) February 28, 2019
Not long ago, you might have come to Netflix with a specific show in mind. You popped in because “House of Cards” was back. Or a friend told you that you have to watch “Wild Wild Country.”
Now the stumbleupon hit can happen so easily. The other day, during a casual Netflix “what should we watch next?” scroll, my family bumped into a sitcom called “Working Moms.” A clip started playing, we sat through it, and then started watching episode one.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good show. But it’s far from year-end top ten list good. It’s a random Canadian sitcom headlined by Ivan Reitman’s daughter. If you have had kids, especially if you’re a working mom, it speaks to you.
It’s doubtful we’d have ever found the show a year ago. Now — like many random Yahoo originals years ago — it finds us.
And of course, you’ve noticed how aggressive Netflix starts autoplaying a second episode or new complementary series. That tweak is downright maniacal. And it works. We stuck around for a second “Working Moms.”
In this purpose-driven TV binging era, when you watch what you had planned to watch, flipping around is dying if not dead. I’d be hard pressed to be able to find VH1 if I had to, let alone happen upon “Roadhouse” like I did so many times in the past. The mid-tier cable network is an endangered species. You know when the NCAA Tournament starts every year and you’re like “where’s TruTV? Again?” Every channel is like that.
Except Netflix. You always check Netflix. And now you flip around, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
It’s why I actually believe — despite the total lack of context surrounding the numbers — that 40 million-plus people have at least checked out a minute or two of the one-time Lifetime stalker drama “You.” It’s so easy to end up checking out a snippet when a show like that ends up in ‘trending.’ Netflix practically stalks you. As that habit solidifies, that’s less and less time people spend on their cable TV menu, VOD screens. And less time they have available for any new interface. It’s why I actually believe that Netflix could make sense to nab major sports rights someday.
I was talking to a digital ad industry leader the other day, and we both agreed that sports leagues like the NFL and NBA would be wary of selling their main rights to the Facebooks and Amazons of the world, because they don’t want to lose the TV industry’s production expertise, or its discovery power. But Netflix’s technology is unsurpassed. And it’s starting to dominate in discovery.
Of course, Netflix has to keep bringing you more hit-worthy binges. whether that’s a random discovery like “Working Moms” or a high production star driven show like “Ozark.” It’s certainly spending enough.
And when Disney+ launches, it’s going to have massive buzz, not to mention original Marvel and Star Wars shows that large pockets of geek fandom will have to check out. Still, the stronger a hold that the Netflix home screen has, the harder it will be to stop.
What could go wrong? (Don’t ask Yahoo).