Netflix surprised a lot of people last week when it announced on its quarterly earnings call it had blown past forecasts by adding 7.4 million new subscribers in Q1 2018, 5.5 million of which were outside the U.S. That brings its total subscriber base to about 125 million worldwide.
While a recent survey (unconfirmed by Netflix itself) reported 80% of those on Netflix are there for the licensed content – movies and TV shows from other studios and networks – the company also firmly believes its future lies in original content. CEO Reed Hastings said on that same call it has $8 billion it expects to spend on the production of original material, which is rapidly becoming the key differentiating point between subscription streaming services. Much of that original content will be specifically geared toward international audiences.
To get the most out of that production spending the company is also reportedly ready to engage in more – and more traditional – marketing and advertising activities to draw people’s attention to its original offerings.
I’ve consistently been tough on Netflix for its decisions to not engage in a lot of marketing for their feature film originals. It’s only recently that posters were regularly created. Trailers often come out just a week or two before the movie is scheduled for release. There’s rarely any unique social profiles – or even any substantive support on brand profiles – and almost never a stand-alone website. That all has been understandable to some extent, but it’s also important to remember that these tactics are all important ones in raising audience awareness regardless of product.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said a while ago that he didn’t really want to engage in *any* external marketing, relying almost solely on in-network promotion by seeding different lists of recommendations and giving priority films prominent placement on the service’s front page. But it’s clear that’s not going to be enough and the recent news the company was considering spending $300 million to buy an outdoor billboard company shows they realize some marketing is needed. It’s possible, though, that it could take the same approach with that format as it does on social media and devote most of its attention to promoting shows, not movies.
On the few instances Netflix has gone above and beyond it’s been a relative success. Looking at the campaigns for original films like Bright and Mudbound, the former was a massive viewer draw and the latter garnered a number of award nominations. So that more full-throated campaign helped.
It’s not likely that, with such an ambitious release schedule, Netflix would be able to launch sizable campaign for each and every title. It would be great, though, to see more of the mid-level films it’s acquiring and producing get more earned media (another area the company has been consistently light) in addition to slightly longer lead times for its marketing efforts. Those two changes could make big differences with little additional effort expended.
Who this plays out in reality remains to be seen. Here’s hoping, though, that Netflix starts leaning in a more marketing-centric direction.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.