Click image to read Joe Adalian's “Inside the Binge Factory" for Vulture.com
To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s “Batman”: “Where does Netflix get those wonderful shows?” It’s something I’ve considered, and so has Joe Adalian, west coast editor of New York Magazine’s Vulture.com. Adalian wrote the piece “Inside the Binge Factory,” where he sought to understand the methods to Netflix’s bounty of original media.
Adalian was a guest on a recent episode of one my favorite podcasts, WBUR’s
“On Point.” David Folkenflik, the host of that particular episode, had a lively conversation
(“The Binge-Watching Continues. What's Behind Netflix's Success?”) with Adalian who began the broadcast by saying pointedly: “Netflix, right now, is television. Netflix has, in the space of five years, completely transformed the TV universe.”
I found the conversation utterly engrossing, so I wanted to include a large swath of it. Information from Adalian’s article is noted, as well. Here’s what I gleaned about the company and its business strategy:
When “House of Cards” debuted in 2013, Netflix executives anticipated having as many as 20 original shows – they now have 300-400. These Netflix originals encompass both scripted and unscripted TV, as well as original movies. About 80 films are to be released this year.
When Netflix began to create originals, the expectation was the model was going to be like that of HBO. They would have library content – TV shows and movies from other studios –and they would add in originals. HBO had pioneered this model in the 1970s and 80s.
However, Netflix changed their strategy from enhancing their library with some original content to churning out programming. Netflix knew they couldn’t rely on studios – their competition – to supply them with content, as this would draw from their customer base. I imagine Disney, for instance, would rather have people watch “Moana” on the Disney Channel than Netflix – although the 2016 film is currently streaming on Netflix. How long will it be available on the platform? Why did Netflix and Disney chose to partner on this title? I suppose those are questions for the leadership of both organizations.
How is Netflix about to create so much original programming so quickly? The organization has a decentralized management style. Several people can greenlight shows, and this allows for more speed and agility than other networks. By cutting through bureaucracy, Netflix is able to beat others to market with ideas. Adalian described this as a “virtuous cycle where more content begets more content.”
Further, he said Netflix isn’t trying to be one network like HBO or FX – they want to be an entire cable system. They want to be a complete package where customers can find the type of programming they would on HGTV, as well as the Food Network, as well as NBC, as well as CBS, and so on. This, Adalian explained, is “must see essential subscribership.”
Netflix now has more than 125 million global subscribers. This is a substantial increase from around 33 million before “House of Cards,” and the numbers are expected to continue to grow. Netflix could have 200 million by 2020, but 300 million is also a possibility.
In addition, Netflix is now the most-valued media company in the world, surpassing, yes, Disney. Its overall market capitalization is now $150 billion.
Got all that? It may be a bit much, but all this background gave me a better understanding and regard for Netflix – not that I didn’t already. Co-founder, chairman and CEO
Reed Hastings said he wants people to have an “emotional connection” to the brand, and I have that. I’ve been a subscriber for more than a decade, and I’ve been intrigued by the way in which the company has gradually changed my viewing habits – first mail order DVD rentals, then streaming, and now a slew of original programming.
As I mentioned, Netflix’s first foray into originals was five years ago. It’s hard to believe that at one point there was only one such series on the site, as dozens are now offered. In addition to “House of Cards,” I’ve watched “Love,” “Glow,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and others. There are several in my queue that I’ll probably never get to, as there’s just too much to see and too little time to see it. I appreciate, however, that Netflix’s choices are varied and vast. There are times when browsing through the company’s catalogue is just as enjoyable as sitting back and clicking play.
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication professional. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.