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Would Netflix’s ‘N-Plus’ Be a Value-Add, or More Digital Clutter?

Late last week, Protocol reported that Netflix had sent surveys out to select users around “N-Plus,” a future community idea designed around enhancing Netflix’s existing video content library. Among the features noted were things like podcasts, playlists and how-tos. Overall, it sounds like a cross between a social network, Spotify and YouTube… but just for Netflix shows.

To some extent, this is an understandable move for Netflix, which only has so many moves left on the current chess board before needing to invent a new game to continue growing (even if it can keep succeeding within its status quo).

As noted on TVR]EV last month, subscriber counts aren’t worth hitting the panic button about, but Netflix has a few more headwinds that could fuel some concern. With every traditional media conglomerate launching its own streaming service lately, it’s been pulling a lot of popular content off of Netflix. There’s only so much room left to grow in the U.S. market, and with the streaming space getting more crowded by the day, it’s debatable how much attention current non-subscribers possibly have left for Netflix at this point.

Netflix also doesn’t support ads, so no additional revenue opportunities there. And when stacking the company up to its major competitors on streaming — Amazon, Disney — they also lack the diversified business portfolios each respectively possesses. Amazon and Disney can stake their futures on streaming, while using other revenues to fuel those investments. For Netflix, video content success is the only thing that fuels more video content success right now.

“N-Plus” is a potential life raft there, however. A separate community potentially presents ad revenue opportunities closed on the core Netflix platform, while harnessing the power of fandom to fuel the growth of potential reaction video shows and discussions, podcasts, merchandise and more. You could argue Netflix even has a proof of concept on how community building through its content can work, too. Data from Tubular Audience Ratings shows that Netflix was the 29th-ranked media & entertainment property by U.S. unique viewers this March, with 54 million across YouTube and Facebook. Couple that with over 603 million minutes watched across those platforms and there’s ample evidence that the streaming service already knows how to get people active in a social media-type setting.

Where the questions arise are around whether anyone has room for additional content anymore.

Netflix itself obviously takes up hours of time for consumers on a daily basis, as do other streaming services, linear TV channels and digital platforms. Video games are there too, as are podcasts and the radio. People do still read books. There’s also just work, family responsibilities, exercise, sleep, etc… You know, life.

According to an eMarketer Insider Intelligence study published back in January, daily digital media consumption for U.S. adults rose to seven hours and 50 minutes in 2020 — a 15% year-over-year jump undoubtedly fueled in part by the pandemic. That’s a lot before adding another option to view and/or interact with, and that likely means consumers are borrowing from elsewhere. Netflix would hope that most are borrowing from competitive services to interact with an N-plus community. But… what if they just wind up watching less Netflix?

This isn’t to doubt the overall concept of the fan community here, either. The Ringer’s build a podcast empire (further bankrolled by Spotify) on it, and keeps launching new shows and communities around them to capitalize on that. The recent launch of The Ringer-Verse feed was intended to do exactly what Netflix is proposing and potentially copying pieces of here. YouTube communities like New Rockstars, Screen Rant and more have shown how not just watching but discussing popular shows generates millions of views and further conversations and theorizing. Disney+ basically ran an entire show on the power of fan conversations and theories when it debuted WandaVision back in January.

So we know it works. But again: Can it work for a socialized version of Netflix? Does the service’s own success on platforms like YouTube and Netflix just come from the fact that those are established social media communities that require no extra effort or friend-building to interact with? And with so many other communities already out there to talk about shows on Netflix and various other streaming services, is there room for even more of that content — especially if it’s being produced by Netflix itself, and thus removing some of the objectivity many fans are hoping for when evaluating the shows they watch?

There’s also the issue of what really drives this sort of conversation, and it’s something Netflix doesn’t really have much of: Serialized shows. The week-by-week releases for shows like Mare of Easttown on HBO Max or the Marvel shows on Disney+ are a big part of what fuels weekly fan discussion. Netflix typically gives you everything, and then allows you to create your own binge-watching experience any way you like. So with the end “spoiled” for any show within minutes of release, do people want to talk about Netflix’s shows the same way they’d want to discuss competitive selections from Disney+, Hulu, Amazon or HBO Max?

There’s also the franchise IP issue. Netflix is short on that at the moment, though the Sony deal helps address some of it… until it eventually winds up on a Disney platform, anyway. Having exclusive post-theatrical windows from Sony films was a big sign that Netflix is willing to change things up as it keeps trying to grow. That shuffle button was another. And N-plus looks like yet another gambit of sorts to force a reevaluation of exactly what you think Netflix is.

So will it work? Or is N-Plus just more digital clutter in a space that seemingly takes on more and more of it each day? From an advertising perspective, this could be a way for Netflix to have its cake and eat it too. But community-wise, it seems too late in the game to really generate the sort of traction required to be anything more than “another” place to talk about TV, even with the proposed feedback features that could influence development. Given how many people watch Netflix, perhaps even a fraction of them using an ad-supported community is worth it financially. That ad theory is completely speculative on this end, though. If it doesn’t happen, it’s much harder to see this truly working out as well for the company.