Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » Netflix No Binge

Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » Netflix No Binge

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“Netflix reportedly planning to start releasing episodes weekly”: https://bit.ly/3Rzz2hf

This is how the music business got in trouble, by ignoring its customers in search of an ever-growing bottom line.

This all comes down to customers, right? Isn’t that why Netflix is pivoting across the board?

Maybe you’re not paying attention to streaming, but it’s a very dark path these companies are going down. Producing less content for more money as they add ads and come to resemble the TV networks of yore, while charging more. Never mind that the old TV networks were, and still are, FREE!

I mean you want to serve ads and charge me too? Make me feel like a second class citizen?

It’s one thing if you’re Spotify, incentivizing freeloaders to up to full carriage, full payment. And it works. You see the free tier is hobbled. No one who actually wants to listen to music enjoys it. And no one who watches TV likes the ads, even though they’re sometimes superior to the dreck the networks purvey.

So I used to be a member of an elite club at Netflix, that’s how it felt, no matter how many subscribers the service had. It was all about me. They were making highbrow content, more and better than HBO. And their algorithm was based on my habits. I paid for the privilege, but that’s fine, the same way you pay for Louis Vuitton or Tiffany or Rolex or even Apple!

Come on, Apple’s products are premium priced, but millions of people have them. Still, owners feel good about them, it’s a badge of honor.

So now the tail is wagging the dog. Investors are running these companies.

Let’s start with Warner Music. Which Time Warner blew out for $2.6 billion in 2004. Right now the record company is worth $14.05 billion, and the asset is still intact! With that catalog of the greatest hits of the rock era, it’s going to pay dividends forever! And students of the game know that recorded music revenues are only going to go up, because there are so many avenues of exploitation, never mind oldies having value they no longer did in a sales model, you get paid when people stream old songs today!

No one dislikes streaming, other than delusional artists who don’t understand if no one is listening they do not get paid, and the enemy is not Spotify itself, which pays two-thirds of revenue to rights holders and still has trouble making a profit.

Then again, someone is always left behind in the transition from old to new. Vent windows? History in the era of universal a/c in cars.

So you get all the music for ten bucks a month. The deal of the century.

But in TV…

There’s an astronomical cable bill.

There is hope there though, because of wide-band 5G, or whatever comes after it, since wide-band 5G has such a small range. Still, T-Mobile is now selling home routers.

And then there’s the cable package, where you overpay for what you don’t want. So people drop the TV portion. But that leaves them with a huge broadband bill. But now they have a wireless alternative.

HBO was an alternative to network. And Netflix was an alternative to HBO. More content, on demand.

Now?

David Zaslav, the financial hero of the ignorant, is reducing content on HBO Max.

And Netflix has ads.

Why do you expect people to pay for this?

THEY’RE NOT!

That’s the big story in streaming, churn. People signing up for a series and then signing off. I cashiered my Apple TV+ subscription. It used to be free, but then I paid for a month and watched nothing. So I hear about an Apple TV+ show, just yesterday in fact, with good RottenTomatoes ratings, but I’m not signing back up until there are multiple shows, because Apple is a rip-off. The lowest priced with the least product. I’m off it. And it’s not about money, it’s an INSULT! I’d sign up to watch an entire show right away, but if they think I’m going to subscribe for months to watch one show they’ve got another think coming!

HBO Max is supported by its cable channel. All its numbers are obfuscatory. Very few are signing up for HBO Max directly, they have the service because they’re paying for HBO via their cable system, which is like believing in CDs. So you’ve got award-winning TV which appeals to those who don’t even know how to stream, that’s a future?

But the worst offense is you can’t get all the product for one low price.

Yup, quote me a number. I’m in. Just give all of it to me. Like with music streaming services. But TV is Balkanized, and getting worse. And who is winning?

Certainly not the creators who are giving up their residuals. Streaming TV is based on buyouts.

The streaming companies are under the misimpression that we need their product. Which is patently untrue. We can miss anything these days, because there’s more product in the pipeline, overwhelming diversions. And the dirty little secret is TikTok is better than all the streaming services, it evidences more creativity, more honesty, AND IT’S FREE!

But the oldsters pooh-pooh TikTok. They’ve never experienced it. Go down the rabbit hole, it’s addictive, it’s fulfilling, and much better than those imitation network shows produced by Netflix. Didn’t network already teach us that being all things to all people is death? And HBO illustrated that elite can have a very broad audience.

Which is what blew up Netflix, “House of Cards,” one of the best TV shows ever created. I’ve not only been a fan of Netflix since then, I’ve trumpeted the service, but no more, I’m done.

I mean I’ll watch for a while, but I’m not going to rave about Netflix itself. Because Netflix is beholden to Wall Street, not me. It’s not the renegade, it’s the establishment!

Just think about the no binge model. You go to the movies and have to come back next week to finish the film, or eight weeks in succession.

No, you see the movie all at once!

And series are the new movies, to the point where other than blockbusters like “Top Gun: Maverick” most people don’t even bother to go to the theatre anymore. To see overpriced lame pictures?

All the action has been on TV. It’s been a creator’s medium. Driven by talent instead of suits.

But now that has changed, the purse-strings have been tightened, the bottom line is key, and you’ve got programmers no different from Fred Silverman trying to divine what will appeal to the most people…JUST LIKE NETWORK TV!

One of the absolute most fulfilling things I do in my life is binge television. Just finished “Salamander,” twenty two episodes.

As for “Ted Lasso”… I didn’t even bother to watch the second season, I couldn’t do it one episode a week and when it was all over so was the buzz so what difference does it make? And I don’t care what you say, it’s a good show, but it’s not “House of Cards,” never mind “The Godfather.”

The path to glory is always paved with premium product. We learned this in the heyday of the music business, and in the seventies heyday of movies. These endeavors drive the culture. They draw attention, and grow as a result. When you put the bottom line first… Isn’t that how Warner Bros. Records grew in the first place? You wanted to be on the label with not only Neil Young, but Ry Cooder, you believed the execs cared about you. I used to believe that Reed Hastings cared about me, BUT NO MORE!

It’s one thing if you’ve got an absolute monopoly, but when people feel ripped-off, they’re just waiting for a way around it, maybe paying nothing at all. This was the story of Napster, and BitTorrent.

Spotify killed piracy, getting rid of the binge model is incentivizing BitTorrent!

And killing conversation.

There’s this illusion that we stand around the water cooler and discuss shows the night after when…WE DON’T EVEN WANT TO GO TO WORK TO BEGIN WITH!

I’ve missed almost every recent HBO show, even “Succession,” because I can’t wait for the week to week drip and then I end up too far behind to catch up and it’s just a TV show anyway.

And I’m the bleeding edge.

I remember all the hogwash in the music business two decades ago. They’d do these surveys asking kids what music was worth, and they’d quote these high prices and steal anyway.

Entertainment is run by the gut, not by the spreadsheet. You can’t make revenues regular. This is what’s killing Detroit, selling overloaded SUVs and being annihilated by Tesla with electrics. Detroit felt it was giving people what they wanted, maybe, but they were unconcerned with what people were going to want, the changes!

Talk to car buyers, all they can talk about is electric. Saying they don’t plan to buy another gasoline car. Forget those who buy used, focus on the middle class and up, who can afford new automobiles. If you think otherwise, you’re delusional. There’s no future in being stuck in the past, change happens.

Just like the older generations will be replaced by the new. Young kids don’t have televisions, never mind cable subscriptions. And they borrow their parents’ streaming logins. They don’t need Netflix, they don’t need ANY streaming service, which is why you have to make it more enticing to them, you’ve got to give them a reason to pay attention. Which is always left field programming, like “Squid Game.” They’ll sign up for that, but not twelve months for twelve episodes, no way, it’s a bad business proposition.

In the digital world, in the internet world, you give the people what they want or you die.

It’s kind of like the new Apple Watch Ultra…SIXTY HOURS OF BATTERY LIFE!

Yes, Apple keeps talking about sleep-tracking, but how can you do this if you need to charge the damn watch. But with sixty hours…

It makes the Apple Watch usable. I’m thinking of caving, I don’t even care that it’s eight hundred bucks, it’s what I WANT!

That’s what it all comes down to, does your customer base WANT your product.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking people need your product, people need food and shelter, not much more, they can ultimately do without all else, except maybe sex.

You must make the customer paramount.

And the people saying they like week by week drips are the same people who love CDs and don’t trust Spotify. In other words, LUDDITES!

Give me all the options.

Smartphones deliver more and more customization. Netflix wants to take away rights I already have. Show me where that works in today’s world, I can’t think of a simple example.

TikTok has already disrupted Facebook, even Instagram, which everybody thought was impossible. Facebook focused on the bottom line and missed the trends and the only people left were the late adopters, the oldsters.

Don’t think visual entertainment cannot be disrupted.

Today you innovate or you die, you serve the people or you go extinct.

We can do without anything, we can do without YOU Netflix!

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