Netflix To Subscribers: We Love You Just The Way You Are

Posted: Dec 30 2013, 6:11am CST | by , in News


Netflix To Subscribers: We Love You Just The Way You Are
Photo Credit: Forbes

As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings indicated in his company’s public strategic statement  months ago, they will continue to do war against linear TV watching.

The company has been unbundling  TV technically in time and in space, giving their customers freedom to watch a particular piece of content whenever they want to, on any device. Now they are want to get credit for helping their customers emotionally too: Netflix wants their subscribers to be guilt free, even if they “binge-watch.”

In a widely covered press release, and in other research the company made available just to the Wall Street Journal at the same time, Netflix wrote about the research they conducted among average subscribers  – both through qualitative research by a cultural anthropologist and a straight-up quantitative survey.  And they also looked at viewing pattern data of a segment of subscribers who not only watched one or more of 10 popular shows available on Netflix, but who also finished a season’s worth within a month.

The WSJ article said that people tended to only binge-watch one show at a time. And “for a sitcom with a 22-episode season: 16% of viewers finished the season in the equivalent of a weekend, while 47% completed it within one week.”

So let’s do the numbers:

  • 22 shows x 22 minutes = 8 hours over two days (16% of viewers)  or
  • 1.1 hours over 7 days (47% of viewers.)

Other than the fact that the choice of video content is episodes from a single show, this is hardly “binging”  for most Americans. Nielsen’s most recent report on media consumption  says that depending on what you include, in a given week, the average American watches about 39 hours  of  TV.

In an interview at Google’s Zeitgeist in September 2013, Hastings said about his customers: “Occasionally they binge and that makes a great story, but most of the time it’s a single episode, like you read a chapter of a book.”

So why do some people like to watch episodes from the same show (or movie sequels) one right after the other?  My theory: Discovery of video is still difficult.  Once a viewer finds something she knows she likes, she’ll stick with it.  Anyway, I agree with Slate TV critic Willa Paskin, who demonstrated in a recent piece why binge-watching isn’t really a new phenomenon.  After all, Wagner’s The Ring Cycle has been available for 15-hour binge watching since the nineteenth century.

Here are other good reasons:

  • Installments of the same show can be of variable lengths in order to reflect “the natural rhythms of the story.” (Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings)
  • If you are talking about drama, it can “plumb depths and wander breadths of character and narrative no 100-minute film can approach.” (Media Critic and Author, Bob Garfield)
  • For those of us who are easily confused, it’s a help in keeping the plot straight.  (Ian Crouch, The New Yorker)
  • It saves (a little) time in the long run, as you the show doesn’t have to do the “recap” before it starts a new episode. (Ian Crouch, The New Yorker)
  • It’s social – you can find out what your friends are talking about. (Ian Crouch, The New Yorker)
  • It’s just not a big deal.  It is a “basically undramatic choice to dedicate an amount of time longer than the traditional hour or half an hour over to a particular show.”   (John Jurgensen, Wall Street Journal)
  • “Presented with a chance to binge-watch, people do.” (Willa Paskin, Slate)

Netflix’s alignment with consumer freedom of choice is not just a marketing and customer relations decision; it is also  a reflection of the way they typically acquire content. After all, Netflix’s licensing is generally time-based, where they pay for a multi-year exclusive subscription video-on-demand license.  And so it makes sense to make what they have available immediately; this way they can optimize the popularity of a cultural phenomenon that may fade. And by buying future seasons of shows upfront,  Netflix creates good relationships in the entertainment business by lowering the risks for the creators and licensors.

Source: Forbes

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