Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » Netflix Ad-Supported Tier

Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » Netflix Ad-Supported Tier


The problem with Netflix isn’t the price, but the content!

Man do they have it wrong.

In a world with a plethora of streaming options, one is ready to cancel any at a whim if there is not programming they want to see. Don’t tell me about dripping out product… No way I’m subscribing to Apple TV+ for multiple months to see “Bad Sisters,” I’m just waiting until it’s over to partake.

Or not. When the buzz is done, do I need to see it?

The “Squid Game” mania… Talked to anybody who’s watched the series recently? I certainly haven’t, it’s old news. Sure, some series survive, I’m aware of all those stories about the “Friends” reruns, but “Friends” was created in a completely different era. Today’s productions have a very short shelf life. You watch them and move on. All you’re doing by dripping out the episodes is leaving people on the sidelines, who won’t even bother to subscribe. As for lowering the price, how does NOTHING sound. Ad-supported for free sounds good to me. Make the damn commercials so onerous that only the truly cheap will take this option. Michael Eisner said 10% of the public will never pay, never ever. A lower price ain’t gonna work, never.

As for the lower price…

It’s not like we live in a vacuum, with no data. The freemium model has existed for years. You give away a hobbled version and people get so addicted they’re willing to pay for the real thing. This is Spotify’s model. 45% of people who use Spotify’s free tier ultimately convert to the paid tier: https://on.wsj.com/3MzKaZU People have the money if you have a desirable product. And if you don’t, there’s no lowering of the price that can entice me.

Does Apple have two tiers of prices? OF COURSE NOT! Apple leaves the low-priced goods to the rest of the companies, and ain’t it interesting that Apple is the only company that consistently makes money on handsets.

Turns out all those other people, those on Android, don’t want to pay for goods. Yes, Apple has a smaller market share, but almost all of the income from apps. I mean first and foremost, you go for the people who PAY!

Netflix was seen as a premium product. Now the brand has taken a hit. Having a Netflix account was a badge of honor. And maybe it’s less strong since competitors have entered the marketplace, but everybody knows Netflix has the most new product, and it’s all about new product, because new product ultimately becomes old product, and money can be reaped forever, especially with the Netflix model, where they buy out all the rights.

Did people think “Mayberry” was gonna run forever? Ron Howard will be long in the grave and people will be watching the small town shenanigans. Does every series have legs? Absolutely not, but you’ve got to make many to find out. This is the flaw in the Zaslav model. Once you start cutting production, you’re cutting yourself off at the knees. You need a lot of product, because even the best idea on paper might be a turd in the final result. And you never know what will catch on with the public. People will be watching “Stranger Things” for decades. Did anybody anticipate that? NO!

So, you pay attention to the seers on Wall Street and you’re cooked. Look at Amazon. Everybody bitched about its bottom line, but Bezos wouldn’t cut back, he wouldn’t yield. And then came Prime and then came AWS (Amazon Web Services). Neither was in the original plan. In cost-cutting mode you never take the chance, but if you’re willing to spend, new opportunities develop and come to fruition. Once you cut spending to improve your numbers…death. Especially in new model, tech companies.

Netflix shouldn’t cut back production to save money, it should stay the course, because only with hit product will people pay every month.

As for paying, many many people are watching without paying. They’re hooked on the product, but instead of hoovering up that money, Netflix is trolling for those who haven’t opened their wallets, who can live without the service, HOW DUMB IS THAT?

Everybody believes they’re getting away with something when they share passwords. It’s kinda like Napster. Users knew it was free, but there was no modern alternative. Also, staying with Napster, users saw it as a protest against the outdated business model, of $15 for a CD with one good track. If you’re not pissed about the streaming world, you’re not a user. I used to pay one price for everything on cable, it was expensive, but it was my choice. Now I feel like I’m being pecked to death by ducks. I can only watch one show at one time, but I’ve got to subscribe to all these services? I’m not canceling because they’re too expensive, I can afford it, it’s just an insult. Sell me all the services, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Apple+, Discovery+…never mind Sundance Now an BritBox and Topic…for one price, just name it, I don’t care. If I’m paying for the complete cable package it’s not like I’m pissed that I’m watching one channel at a time.

What’s gonna happen if Netflix cuts off password-sharers. They’re gonna disconnect? THEY’RE NOT PAYING TO BEGIN WITH! People pony up for what they want, and these people already want it. Who do you want to try and convince to pay, those already in your store or the random person on the street? Those inside the store, those sharing passwords, are already interested!

So I’m sitting at home, thinking whether I want to pay $6.99 for Netflix with ads. I’m not paying to begin with. It’s a hurdle I don’t want to jump.

But there are plenty of free services out there: Freevee, Roku… Most of it is junk, but you’ve got to pay for the good stuff. Rolex doesn’t sell a model with a Timex inside.

I just don’t know who the people are who are going to pay for something they aren’t already. I’m not paying for Paramount+, I’m not paying for Discovery+. because they’re complete rip-offs, also-rans. You want me to pay to watch one good show when the rest is recycled dreck? I can live without that program. I want you to go out of business, or merge, or license your product to one of the big kahunas.

That’s what these services don’t understand, WE CAN LIVE WITHOUT ANY OF THEM! Streaming services are not the most important purchases in our lives, they’ve got to earn our money. It’s a yes/no proposition, it’s black and white, it’s not a matter of price. Look, a movie costs fifteen to twenty bucks but I’m going to haggle over paying fifteen bucks for a service with tons of product for a MONTH? No, it’s just a matter of if I’m interested in what’s being purveyed.

You can’t be all things to all people. That’s a bad business model. It doesn’t work for anybody. You’re inherently dumbing-down the product. Want to make more money Netflix…RAISE THE PRICE! You’ve got to give me something for it, maybe one theatrical release a month, free, immediately, but my wallet is open for the desirable, most people’s is. Are we really arguing over a handful of bucks, do they really think that’s why people are not subscribing to Netflix?

And the cable companies make you subscribe for a year, but Netflix is month-to-month. SiriusXM offers year-long discount products. Better to commit the person for a year at a lower price then try to get them pay month by month, it’s one decision instead of twelve. And if you commit for a year, odds are you’re going to watch, get hooked, you’ve made the deal. Do you buy a product, use it once and then discard it? No, if it’s expensive enough you try to make it work, you Google instructions, it’s going to take a lot for you to put it in a corner to collect dust. You’re INVESTED!

So now streaming TV is just like network. That’s the model. Netflix was a NEW model, but now it’s undercut itself, gone backwards.

This reminds me of the early 2000s in the music business. We’d have all these focus groups with teenagers asking them about the value of music, what it was worth. And almost every one said $10-$15 for a CD was fair. But the dirty little secret was when we asked how many people bought CDs at this price? NONE! They were opining about something they weren’t involved in, and they were telling the questioners what they wanted to hear as they continued to download music from Napster. We could never convince these kids to buy CDs again, we had to come up with a new model. It’s not like if the CD was five bucks they’d buy it, THEY DIDN’T WANT IT AT ANY PRICE!

Just like the people not subscribing to Netflix.

Everybody knew there would come a time when Netflix would run out of potential subscribers. Everybody convinced themselves that we weren’t there yet, that we were living in an unending go-go era, but once you have one smartphone, HOW MANY MORE DO YOU NEED?

You saturate the marketplace and if you want more money you extend the brand, like Spotify, or merge with another company. Patagonia doesn’t do this, but it was privately owned. It wasn’t about the short term insanity of the stock price. And Patagonia’s value, financially and in esteem, has only gone UP! And when they limited sales, saying they wouldn’t sell their vests for corporate retreats, owners of Patagonia products felt even better about their purchases, and went out and bought more, Patagonia was something to BELIEVE IN! And still is.

I used to believe in Netflix.

Now I just see a bunch of businessmen bending in the wind to placate the financial community which has its head up its rear end. It was the bleeding edge product that kept me testifying. But they got rid of the person responsible for that. It would be like HBO firing its development staff and hiring ABC’s. MAKES NO SENSE!

We live in a soulless world where brands are kings, even more than people. Ask me who I believe in most. It certainly ain’t anybody in the Spotify Top 50, I believe in Apple more than them. Apple makes the finest products and doesn’t enter every field. I can feel good about owning Apple products. And Apple is the most valuable company in the world! And their products are more expensive than everybody else’s!

So there are Apple-haters. No problem, it just makes my belief in Apple stronger, especially since most of the haters are having a knee-jerk reaction. Sure, you can customize Android more, but how many people actually want to do that? But even worse, most of the phones can’t be upgraded, Android has the greatest market share, with everybody on a different operating system. Which yields a worse user experience. Apple just pushes the update to everybody.

Does Apple make mistakes? OF COURSE!

But at least Tim Cook has balls. When asked why he didn’t make iMessage RCS compatible, that is work with Android, so the person’s mom could see videos better, he said “Buy your mom an iPhone.” He didn’t weasel, he owned it. And I want to tell you, when I see a green bubble I judge the person. They didn’t get the message? You’re still using an Android? Don’t complain, it’s useless, this is how we iPhone users feel, ALL OF US!

Meanwhile, Reid Hastings and Ted Sarandos are afraid of both the Street and the public. Let’s make it more palatable, let’s play by your rules. Didn’t you win by BREAKING those rules?

This is a product few are interested in. But Netflix felt pressured by Wall Street…

Never a good motivation.

Now Netflix is another bottom line TV company when it used to be so much more. Viewers were in bed with Netflix. I don’t want them under the covers ANYMORE!


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