Photo courtesy Netflix Photo courtesy Netflix

The Formula That Is Netflix

Mon, May. 7, 2018
Over a year ago, I became one of the many Netflix addicts; watching shows like Designated Survivor or Narcos for hours every night and forgetting what it was like to watch series on traditional TV. My viewing habits, along with those of 118 million Netflix subscribers, are the natural evolution of our relationship with technology. We use smart phones for the better part of our days to do everything; from calling somebody to watching YouTube for hours. So Netflix naturally fits with new lifestyle; with features that include streaming services and video on demand, providing the viewer control over when to watch their favorite show, and, more importantly, watching it without a dozen commercial breaks ruining the experience.

To be part of that new lifestyle, the American entertainment provider has been preparing for over a decade, expecting that people will look for a new pattern to watch entertainment.

Originally founded in 1997, Netflix had a strategic 10-year vision in 2007: They wanted to become an “entertainment technological company.” Everybody inside the company was asking at the time what this meant. The answer was clear; entertainment companies will not last long if they do not have the right technological tool to reach viewers and digital companies will not develop until they provide entertainment as part of its services; and Amazon is the best example of that.

Quality content at your fingertips

Netflix works on two parallel tracks; the first is buying or creating good content, and the second is making this content accessible for hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

“It was very different then; we were only streaming to PCs, only to Windows even,” Chief Product officer Greg Peters tells Egypt Today. “The library was much more limited than what you see today; and of course, we were available only in the United States. So fast forward 10 years, there’s been a lot of change. But a lot of that has actually happened just in the most recent couple of years.”

Their services and followership have evolved drastically since that fateful decision. Today, Netflix has almost 118 million subscribers, which translates into nearly half a billion viewers watching from 190 countries in 20 languages. According to their figures, people watch Netflix for a total of 140 million hours every day.

This boom started five years ago when Netflix launched its first original production, House of Cards series. Today, just five years later, the global content library of Netflix has content from over 100 different countries. This year, the company plan is to spend over $8 billion to make that library even bigger.

“Just two years ago, we actually completed our global rollout of our streaming service. In one day, we launched 130 countries [in addition] to the countries we already serve, [which] brought our total up to 190 countries and made Netflix available, essentially, [on a] global [level],” he explains.

The next step for Netflix was accessibility; reaching hundreds of millions of viewers on different devices and operating systems. According to Peters, Netflix was able to reach 450 million individual devices in the past few months, ensuring that their services run efficiently on 1,700 different types of devices that range from desktops to smart phones and smart TVs.

Their product strategy focuses on being simultaneously local, personal and global; that means presenting Netflix in the country’s language through subtitles and dubbing, as well as ensuring that the services are available on their device of choice and through payment methods they trust.

Peters adds that a part of making Netflix local is providing culture-relevant content to tell the story of every country and community; and Netflix is now working on productions in more than 20 countries; from Denmark to Mexico and Mumbai.

“We thought that these local shows would only matter to their communities, but the contrary just happened,” he says. Germans, for instance only represented 10 percent of the total viewers of the Netflix original German thriller series Dark; so 90 percent of the viewers were watching from outside of Germany. Narcos is a similar case, enjoying the same global popularity, despite it telling the story of the notorious Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar and other drug cartels.

“That story of a local show that goes viral globally is repeated again and again; whether it’s 3% series from Brazil,Money Heist from Spain, or Godzilla from Japan,” Peter says. “By connecting specific, individual shows with individual users, we’re able to create a much bigger audience and find people to watch these shows who would have never even considered seeing entertainment content from other countries.”

The impossible logistics of producing around the world

As Netflix has evolved to become a global producer of entertainment, producing 126 series and movies across the world in 2016, the need for technology to connect the production teams with the company became key. The company mainly outsources its production; which means they are in dire need of a technology that allows for an effective, smooth and reliable workflow and communication between various members of the team around the world.

Unlike other industries, cinematic production has not utilized technology to enable innovation, collaboration and communication. For Netflix, producing content in dozens of countries across the world and coordinating thousands of production personnel has become a challenge.

“We have been exploring this problem for the past two years and are excited about the opportunities we see to shape the intersection of technology and production,” said Chris Goss, the director of studio technology at Netflix in a press statement. “One focus of this effort has been an initiative called Prodicle.” Prodicle provides freelance production crew with applications that leverage existing technologies to reshape production planning and logistics fundamentals and collaborate with other members of the team in real time. Such technology basically help coordinate hundreds of people who have to work together on one project, but who might be based in various places around the world, in different time zones, cultures and environments.

One of those applications, Goss explained, is Prodicle Move, which is handy in answering one simple question: “What is happening on set right now?”

“We’ve been piloting Move for several months on a few of our biggest productions. Our partners on GLOW and A Series of Unfortunate Events are just a couple of examples who have been amazing in their willingness to change keys areas of their workflow to try something new,” Goss said. “We believe success is dependent on finding and developing solutions that equally benefit the production and studio environments. The partnership between Netflix, the tech community, and the entertainment production community is key.”
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