Netflix had a bad quarter, or more accurately, a less good quarter than they’d anticipated, and already the knives are out.
TV is one of those topics that everyone has an opinion on because well, everyone watches it, and so there’s been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on over the past few weeks, ever since Warner announced it was taking back Friends and NBCU announced they were taking back The Office.
So maybe it’s time for TV[R]EV to set things right.
1. The Flixcopalypse Is Not A Zero Sum Game
We fully expect all eight Flixes (we’re including the inevitable CBS/Viacom Flix) will remain alive, at least for the first five years. If they don’t, it will be because they made some really disastrous choices, but there’s no reason to think that will happen.
Yes, there will be churn, yes some will be more successful than others, but they will all find their audiences.
As we’d pointed out a few weeks back, eight Flixes at an average of $15/month each is still only $120, which is less than your average Super Platinum cable bill. And while we don’t expect most people to get all eight—three to five seems more likely–we don’t expect them to all subscribe to the same three or four services either.
Because different strokes, different folks, and all that.
2. People Don’t Subscribe To Netflix To Watch Friends And The Office
They subscribe to watch Stranger Things and Orange Is The New Black and Black Mirror and (if they’re smart) Bojack Horseman.
Then, when they’re done watching all the originals they are interested in that month or that week, they’ll turn on Friends, because people really love comfort food TV, familiar shows where they already know the characters and the plots and what happens at the end, shows that only take up 20 minutes of their time.
So while losing those shows is no doubt somewhat disappointing for Netflix, all it means is that all the Friends viewers will go back to watching endless episodes of Parks and Recreation or American Dad, just like they did before Netflix had Friends.
3. Nobody Has Any Idea What Most Of The Other Flixes Will Look Like
Including, it often seems, the people who work there.
HBO Max is still clearly a work in progress, NBCUFlix still lacks a name, and even Disney+ is in many ways a $6.99/month cipher. So there’s no way that anyone can make a sound guess as to what the landscape will actually look like once these services all launch, what their overall offerings will be, what their interface will look like, how often the service will buffer and crash–you know, all the things that actual viewers care about.
4. No Service Is Bulletproof Because TV Is An Art More Than A Science
I’m going to keep saying this till it sinks in. But no one can guess what shows will resonate with viewers. They can know that zombie shows are hot right now or that Adam Driver is a popular actor. But they can’t know that any show is going to be a hit, by any definition of that word. They can’t know if the show will attract new subscribers or get existing subscribers to stay. They can’t know if the writers will have a really great first season and then hit a sophomore slump the second. They can’t know if a show aimed at middle aged women will take off with teenage boys or vice versa.
It’s all a mystery, except for this: most shows fail. They never find an audience and disappear into the ether. This is true of any art form, not just television. And one more thing: even superstars have flops. Plural.
It’s just the nature of the beast.
In TV world, that means that over the next five to twenty-five years, the various Flixes will go through hot and cold streaks, which will affect the number of subscribers they have, but will not put them or their competitors out of business.
5. Marketing Will Matter. A Lot.
As all the various Flixes launch and spring their billions of dollars worth of originals upon us, there will be a number of very good shows that fail because they were not marketed correctly.
In normal times, a really good show would be able to recover from an inept marketing campaign. But these are not normal times and viewers will be overwhelmed (and then some) by the number of new shows they are being asked to watch, and so if something doesn’t hit them right away, they probably won’t even have bandwidth to file it away for future viewing.
This is one of our biggest red flags regarding Netflix: their all-at-once release strategy gives them movie-like windows to build up buzz for new shows. That can be great when they drop a Stranger Things in the middle of an otherwise quiet summer, but could be deadly when they’re dropping new originals in the middle of seasons dominated by Disney and HBO and Hulu’s weekly blockbusters and can’t fall back on a strategy of relying on three or four months worth of “new episode this week” style promos to promote them.
6. Smaller, Less Defined Cable Networks Are Actually The Ones At Risk
As viewers churn through the various Flixes, and supplement them with the FASTS (Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV Services) they are going to wonder why they are paying so much money for their MVPD or vMVPD, given they pretty much only watch the broadcast channels and maybe a 24 hour news network or RSN (regional sports network) or two.
Which is why if the MVPDs and vMPVDs are smart, they will roll out “super skinny bundles” that pretty much only have the local broadcast stations with news, sports and home improvement/reality as add-ons. (And maybe even not that last category if CBS/Viacom buys Discovery.)
But all those random cable networks? They’re the ones people are going to be ditching.
Or they’ll be ditching cable TV period, as actual cord cutting (giving up any sort of MVPD or vMVPD service) is likely to rise from its current state of 0.65% last year to something like 6% to 8%.
(Sorry, Silicon Valley trades, but there will be many people who don’t take part in the Flixcopalypse and many more who will subscribe to one or two services while still getting most of their TV from MVPD cable. Because in TV Land, old habits die hard.)
7. Netflix Is Not Going To Start Running Ads
It’s a great way to get clicks for your article or to pretend like you’ve got some kind of hidden secret knowledge about Netflix that no one else has (kind of like conspiracy theorists), but no, Netflix is not going to start running advertising anytime soon, certainly not in the middle of the Flixcopalypse, when they’re already head and shoulders ahead of everyone else in terms of subscriber numbers and their brand image is pretty much “TV without commercials.”
If they ever do decide to try an ad-supported model (and I doubt that they will) it would likely be in developing countries where there aren’t a lot of people who can afford an SVOD service and where they are getting the pants beat off of them by lower-priced ad supported local services. (And if they’re as smart as they have been, they’ll give the new ad supported service a different name, so it doesn’t seem like part of the Netflix brand.)
But I see no reason not to take them at their word that they are not going to launch an ad-supported service. (And no, product placement and promos for their own shows that autoplay on your home screen don’t count.)
8. Series Release Dates and Quarterly Earnings Call Dates Will Become Much Better Aligned
If there’s one lesson we can learn from yesterday’s results it’s that every Flix is going to make sure that they’re dropping new-subscriber-friendly shows before the results for the next quarterly earnings call are due.