Netflix Needs To Keep Pace As It Expands Into Upscale Content

by , Mar 18, 2011, 11:45 AM
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How do you market an original TV show when you don't have a place to run promos? When your customers aren't sure where to look for new shows? When you don't really have a "network"?

Someone at Netflix must be asking these questions. Maybe someone else there has the answers. Maybe someone else is just winking at it all.

Media executives believe Netflix is looking to break new ground when it comes to buying "House of Cards," a prestige TV drama that would have gone to HBO or AMC had it not gone to Netflix.

Netflix has been on a big winning streak lately, as yet not making one false step in its rise. You don't think so? Have you seen its stock price lately?

The chief problem for any original TV/video content -- on any platform -- is finding large swatches of viewers. Niche audiences are always around. Marketers can always find them, for say a short branded entertainment series, and declare success.

But when you spend broadcast-network-like dollars -- $100 million on a series for two years -- it's a whole different equation. You are not talking about eight 5-minute webisodes sponsored by Denny's, Dove or BMW. This is big money -- and in that light, you need big marketing ideas that attract big audiences.

Netflix might tell you that what it is doing it is not the broadcast network model -- and not even the HBO model. Getting people to watch a TV show today, next week, or next month? It doesn't matter -- as long as they watch some time.

The streaming business isn't about lead-ins and lead-outs or whether or not you win the night among 18-49 viewers. Who cares about that when your 20 million customers are still spending $8, $10 or $12 a month? That's all you need to know.

Still, Netflix might want to take a lesson or two from HBO and how it markets. "True Blood" got some big push from its vampire-ish content appeal and from the Internet world -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- which are increasingly influential for TV marketers. But so too is big positive press and TV critic coverage -- kind of like what Miramax used to do, and The Weinstein Company continues, for its initially small-targeted independent-feel movies.

That said, HBO yields a high-profile patina, attracting the high-educated, upscale and light TV viewer that many TV marketers love to access. Netflix has a broader range of customers, however, and an image as a low-rent video supplier. (Just look at the deals it has made for older movie/TV content.)

No matter. Give Netflix some props for kicking it up a notch, keeping traditional TV networks and services on their toes. But now it's got another job -- keeping its brand and appeal on pace with high-profile, expensive-looking content.

That is, unless, all this is a ruse. Some have speculated Netflix is just using this as a negotiating ploy in an effort to cut down possible rights fee increases on several expiring deals with the studios.

That would be a different brand transformation.

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