Wolk’s Week In Review: Netflix’s unsurprising win, live gets revived

TV[R]EV Week In Review

Well-known industry analyst Alan Wolk is publishing his popular Week In Review columns first on FierceVideo every Friday. This means that FierceVideo readers are the first to get all Wolk's insights as they navigate the fast-moving television business.

Wolk's Week In Review

1. Netflix’s unsurprising win

With the possible exception of the 45-pound canine sitting at my feet, I can think of few mammals who are as thrilled about the prospect of the entire family sitting at home all day for months on end as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings must be.

Especially after he saw the company’s first-quarter results.

Why it matters

Netflix, as you’ve likely heard, is now in over 50% of all U.S. households and added almost 16 million new worldwide subscribers in the quarter (versus an expected 7 million.)

While many in the media seemed positively shocked by this, it wasn’t all that hard to predict. Netflix has many advantages over the other services: a wide array of programming, both original and otherwise, along with a major head start.

The company is also in every country save China, North Korea and Syria, which makes those overseas numbers more understandable as there is not U.S.-style competition for streaming viewers yet in many of those markets.

That said, Netflix also many other factors going for it.

TV is the company’s only business. Pre-pandemic, this actually seemed like a negative—its competitors are all owned by companies that make much if not most of their money from other sources. But as, say, Disney’s revenues are taking a major hit from its theme parks being closed, Netflix’s position seems like a pretty good one. And while that particular issue had zero impact on last quarter’s rise in subscriptions, it does put it in a good place financially, with the ability to both promote the service today and produce more originals tomorrow.

Netflix has a lot of originals and a lot of international programming. Because it was the OG Flix, it has a lot of originals in the bank; some very popular, some not so popular. But if you’re looking to spend your subscription dollars, what you see is “a lot of shows I have not seen before,” and that makes the spend seem worth it.

The company has also been very smart about buying up hit series from other countries and offering both dubbed and subtitled versions. A good show is a good show, and thus something like “Shtisel,” an Israeli TV drama about a Haredi family in Jerusalem, has become an unexpected draw. No idea if it’s a bona fide ratings “hit” but it winds up on my “trending” list a lot. Bottom line here though is that a wide array of hit shows from other countries is something few of the other services have on offer.

Netflix also has a solid name brand because it was first out and has built strong name recognition. Thus for many viewers who are not as tech savvy or as on top of what’s going on in the industry as readers of this column are, Netflix is the first thing they think of when they think of streaming services.

The bigger question is what happens once things return to normal.

On the one hand, if the economy continues to tank, we’ll see people cutting back on spending everywhere. Traditional MVPD pay TV, which is expensive, will likely be the first to go.

While Netflix has strong name recognition, a wide array of shows, and a lower price than HBO Max,  it doesn’t have live news or sports, which several of the competing Flixes will have (e.g., Hulu has an ABC news feed, HBO Max will have access to CNN) but there are always antennas to bring in local broadcasters (something far more common outside the U.S.) along with the FASTS (free ad-supported streaming TV services) all of which have news feeds from various sources ranging from Cheddar and Newsy to not-exactly-live feeds from CNN.

It will be fun to watch anyway. (Both Netflix and what happens next.)

What you need to do about it

If you’re Netflix, just keep riding it out. Depending on how things go, you may want to slow down the number of new shows you are releasing each month and/or maybe take some of them to a weekly release schedule or a half the season now/half next month deal. Though, given everything I know about Netflix, I am sure you are way ahead of me on that front already.

If you’re one of the other Flixes, time to ramp up marketing. Disney had some stellar numbers from Europe and India this past quarter and with the whole world more or less under lockdown, there’s a market for everyone. Now is the time to find your niche and grow it.

If you’re one of the folks at home…enjoy. You may never have this much time to catch up on and discover new ones as you do now. #SilverLinings.

2. Live gets revived

Live “tentpole event” broadcasts of everything from the Oscars to major sporting events had been slipping over the past few years as viewers seem to have decided the time wasn’t worth it, especially when they could just watch highlights and relevant clips in something close to real time.

But now the pandemic has made actual live events impossible and so the various live-streamed concerts of the past few weeks, plus live press conferences from the White House and from Albany (Governor Cuomo) have garnered a lot of attention, ratings and social media chatter as we strive to feel connected again.

Why it matters

To put that into perspective, the “One World: Together At Home” concert, which featured everyone from Lady Gaga to the Rolling Stones, was seen by about 20.7 million viewers, as per Nielsen’s Live+Same Day ratings. That’s only a portion of the total too, as Nielsen’s numbers are for linear TV only, and do not count the streaming and online services where the concert was also shown live.

The concert was truly an “event” and more than that, it was a way for everyone, marooned at home, to feel closer to each other, to feel that the entire country was doing something at the same time, a common touchpoint we all had and the power endemic to something like that.

Whether this is a short-term rebound that will fade once everyone is out of lockdown, or if it becomes a long-term trend as people remember the power of live events remains to be seen. Some of the problems with the current crop of tentpole events are bigger than the pandemic (e.g. people feeling like they haven’t seen any of the movies nominated by the Oscars) but other problems—a lack of innovation, for instance—are easily fixed.

And what better time to experiment than now.

What you need to do about it

If you’re involved with live events, now is the time to innovate. Don’t try and recreate the old event, just with masks and social distancing, but rather, think about what you would do if you were starting from scratch with all today’s technology at your disposal. This is the time to try and reinvent yourself and you’ll likely find a receptive audience.

If you’re a programmer, this is a good time to innovate as well—what can you do to make live broadcast a thing? How much value will that have to advertisers/sponsors? What can you do to help bring people together in a way that leaves everyone—including your CFO—feeling good?

If you’re one of the artists who participated in One World or similar shows, thank you. Just seeing you, stuck at home like the rest of us, but willing to go out on a limb and perform, means a lot. #StaySafe