In 2015, Netflix began to experiment beyond his television series (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Stranger Things, Narcos, The Crown) with original feature films. It sought, on the one hand, to maintain the same groundbreaking spirit as with its series, and thus expand its catalog and retain its subscribers. On the other hand, it wanted to see itself legitimized by the industry through theatrical releases and presence at major international film festivals. It was not easy.
Significant tensions arose with film exhibitors and festivals over their policy of simultaneous releases in cinemas and on the platform. Analysts debated the extent to which Netflix could blow up established traditional movie release strategies, based on the existence of a time lag between theatrical and domestic releases (what they call Windows), in order to ensure a time of exclusivity.
It can be said that, although in different ways and with many obstacles and failures, Netflix sowed seeds that have sprouted in times of pandemic.
Service, not product
To understand this process, we must bear in mind that Netflix is a brand that wants to avoid labels. In other words, as the expert indicates Timonthy HavensNetflix is not really a “product brand”, but a “service brand.” Netflix aspires that each viewer perceives it as something different, close, depending on their tastes (fan of the lively, fantastic cinema, thriller, documentaries, etc.) and sociodemographic factors. With the help, of course, of its sophisticated algorithm of recommendations.
The same applies to factors such as territory or language. And, probably, this is where Netflix’s strategy differs most clearly from other platforms, which tend to prioritize content of a global nature, with specific bets on local content. Netflix also aspires to be something different and close for local production companies. The company tends to land in a strategic territory by carefully observing consumer habits, but also its audiovisual sector, and thus establishing relationships with it.
This fluid quality of Netflix facilitates what we call a capillary collaboration with local producers, on many occasions – not always – small or medium-sized. These are generally low-cost films that allow production companies to secure financing or, if production is finished, reduce risks derived from the costs of promotion and international distribution.
Local movies, international hits
Is it a sustainable strategy? From what we have seen and if we also look at series of local origin but ambition and global impact type Dark, The Rain, Elite, Kingdom O Unorthodox, it looks like it is. From the outset, they are relevant to subscribers in a specific territory, who make their own that Netflix. At the same time they are international phenomena, which increases the catalog and creates a global brand based on exclusivity and variety and are inspiring examples for local producers and emerging talents, who see Netflix as a possible partner.
In any case, with such a large catalog, it is difficult to have a global vision. And it must be borne in mind that Netflix, let’s not forget it keeps the rights, is like a black box: it provides very little data on the consumption of its content and makes very opaque future decisions based on its own economic projections. Even producers are often pretty blind about how their products are performing.
What does seem to be clear is that Netflix, in its determination to avoid fixed labels, seeks to ensure a strong presence in its catalog of commercial productions, with clear and salable concepts. That is why there are those who consider that there is a kind of Netflix style, based on talents and well-known and easy-to-sell formulas, for example through popular genres such as comedy, action, horror or science fiction.
Beyond Netflix style
But at the same time it encourages other types of productions of independent origin, different, low-budget and often bought at festivals. And we can add a third type: ambitious, riskier productions that rely on prestigious names that can win awards. This is the case of movies like Roma, from Alfonso Cuaron, the Irish from Martin Scorsese, Okay from Bong Joon-ho, Da 5 Bloods from Spike Lee, The Chicago 7 trial, from Aaron Sorkin O Mankby David Fincher.
All these strategies together create a really extensive and complex network. A network that adapts to what we perceive in parts, as in that traditional Hindu tale in which a group of blind people touch different parts of an elephant’s body, reaching disparate conclusions about which animal it is.
Originally posted on The Conversation.