Monday, November 16, 2015

Netflix, Analytics, and Original Programming

Many former and current students have asked me about Netflix's decision to offer original programming.  They always want to know, "Does vertical integration make sense for Netflix or not?"  They know that vertical integration has not always worked out in entertainment industry (think the breakup of Viacom/CBS and the unfortunate consequences of the AOL-Time Warner merger).  I ran across this CNBC interview with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings today (thank you, Professor Jay Rao, for pointing me in this direction!).   Hastings commented on the company's original programming:

Hastings attributed the success of original programming such as "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards" to Netflix's powerful data analytics.  "We are just a learning machine. Every time we put out a new show, we are analyzing it, figuring out what worked and what didn't so we get better next time," Hastings added.

Hastings' comments suggest that vertical integration may make a great deal of sense in this case, because Netflix can increase the odds of success with its original programming due to data analytics.  How powerful can data be in this case?  Well, if think about it, Netflix has been invested in "big data" since its inception in the late 1990s (long before big data became a common term).   From the beginning, Netflix did not want to focus on new releases. It wanted to be able to offer a deep library, and then use data to recommend lesser known titles to people.  Now, it's taking that data analytics to a whole new level, by using information it has compiled for over fifteen years to develop original programming.  As we all know, the failure rate for new shows can be quite high.   If Netflix can reduce that rate, even just by a small margin, it can improve the economics of programming substantially.  

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