Thursday, February 21, 2013

Netflix Strategy and House of Cards

Seth Godin makes the argument that Netflix made a marketing mistake with its release of the entire first season of House of Cards:
HBO understands this, and used shows like the Sopranos to build subscriptions. The day after each episode, people at work would talk about what happened the night before. Not two days later, or four days later, but the very next day. If you didn't watch or didn't have HBO, you felt left out....

Today, of course, we don't wait for work the next day. We talk about it now. And the mistake Netflix made was that they didn't drip. They didn't queue it up for their viewers, didn't coordinate and sync the buzz. In short: they didn't tell you WHEN to talk about it. If "spoiler alert" comes up too often, then we're afraid to speak and afraid to listen (depending on where we are in the viewing cycle).
While I agree that Netflix might have generated some buzz by releasing the episodes on a weekly basis, and that the buzz could draw in new viewers, I think that they both recognized the different expectations of their viewers and also the difficulty of establishing the required level of viewership and buzz in that manner. For example, I've read a number of reviews in which the writer commented that he didn't really get hooked until the fifth or sixth episode. Also, it's not particularly unusual for Netflix to provide TV content, one season at a time, so it has viewers who are used to the luxury of being able to watch all of the episodes from a particular season over a short period of time.

If Netflix releases the entire second season of House of Cards at once, I'll agree with Godin - they don't "get it". But if, as I suspect, they start releasing their original material on a week-by-week basis, I think it's fair to say that the release of the complete first season was a strategic move. While Godin may be correct that an HBO-style strategy would have been better from the outset, I think a compelling case can be made that Netflix needs to establish itself as a producer of high quality original programming and get its members hooked on its original, streamed content before it shifts to a more traditional schedule for releasing new episodes.

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