At the All That Matters summit in Singapore, Rob Roy, VP of Content Acquisition at Netflix, sat down with Scott Dinsdale, Senior Fellow at Accenture’s Centre for the Digital Future, for a keynote discussion on “the future of entertainment.”
Roy credits Netflix’s popularity to its model, centred on a desire to give the consumer complete creative freedom in what, how, when and where they watch.
“We’re selling subscriptions, we’re not trying to monetise any one piece of content,” he says. “There’s no P&L for a specific film or TV show, we ask how we can get it in front of the right audience. Our motivation is different, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
As the company continues to move into Asian markets, the mission remains the same; to find people with a point of view and a story to tell. “We’re not looking for someone to make a “Netflix” show, because there’s no such thing as a typical Netflix show,” he says. “We have a very diverse slate of content and that’s intentional.”
And language isn’t necessarily the barrier in entertainment that it once was; Roy cites the popularity on Netflix of shows like Narcos, which features lots of Spanish dialogue, and the Brazilian drama 3%, which is entirely in Portuguese. These programmes have found an audience in the English-speaking market, which Roy believes bodes well for Asia.
“It’s more about theme and genre, getting a through-line to people,” he says. “We just have to figure out how to make it accessible… People trust the algorithm and will lean into a show that’s not in a language they’re familiar with. Regardless of whether it’s dubbed or subtitled, the storyline just carries them through.”
The global purview of Netflix’s algorithm now also helps connect users with content they didn’t know exists; for instance, a fan of gangster films in the US can be served recommendations based on what a fan of the same genre in Asia has also watched.
He’s also interested in helping Japanese creators bring their work to a more international audience. “With our distribution platform, we can do interesting things exposing new audiences and drawing a more casual anime fan out of someone, opening up that world for them.”
When acquiring content, there’s a series of questions that Roy and his team ask themselves:
- Is this content going to be compelling, is there an audience for this, is this investment going to drive hours of viewing?
- Is this a story where the data doesn’t support the viewership, but we believe there is an audience there, and we just need to find them?
- Is this a genre that we’ve never done before, but we feel this version of that story deserves a chance? “A lot of it is based on intuition,” says Roy.
“At the end of the day, we’re tasked with taking the money that our 100 million members give us every month and reinvesting that into content and helping them discover that content so they’re deriving hours of joy.”
While other content companies are betting big bucks on AR and VR, Netflix is reinvesting every dollar back into where its strengths lie; video. “It’s early days, and I don’t see us pioneering that space, but we’re keeping an eye on it,” says Roy. “Right now we’re hyper-focused on making our movies and TV shows as great as we can.”
Of course, you can’t have a conversation about Netflix without at least mentioning the phenomenon it has helped proliferate; binge culture. “Anecdotally, you hear people talking about [binge-watching] all the time,” he says. “I like the concept of being able to watch at your own pace… you can watch all in one go, or watch an episode every Wednesday night. We’re not dictating that to you.”
The Netflix model, however, is already starting to influence how creative work is made, with some films exceeding traditional running times, and TV seasons designed as 12 hour movies, to be consumed in one sitting. “You don’t have to worry about “opening weekend,” you’re already in the black from day one,” says Roy. ““I think it’ll be interesting to see, as people become less constrained by the traditional models, how storytelling evolves.”
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