Stream On ’22October 15, 2021
Two weeks ago, at the Code Conference, Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel claimed “the total addressable market of content is infinite.” Netflix is spending $17 billion a year to validate his thesis. So far, they’re both right. Since last Friday, Netflix raised subscription prices in 11 countries by as much as 40%. A company’s ability to raise prices is a function of the delta between the price and the perceived value. Nothing better illuminates this delta than the below chart:
Squid Game was sourced, written, and produced in South Korea. Within 10 days of its release, the show was No. 1 on Netflix in 90 countries. The Tarantino-meets-Terry-Gilliam take on children’s games has the fastest-growing audience of any Netflix original ever, registering a 981% engagement increase in its first week. On TikTok, #SquidGame has been viewed more than 22.8 billion times. The jump in South Korean internet traffic was so great that internet service provider SK Broadband is suing Netflix to pay for the costs it’s incurred to deliver the megahit.
Q: How did this happen? A: Intentionally. Netflix landed on foreign shores in 2011, when it launched its service in 43 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Now it’s available in every country except for China, North Korea, Syria, and the disputed region of Crimea. Four years ago, Co-CEO Reed Hastings estimated Netflix could achieve a 75% to 80% international user base. Currently its non-U.S. streamers make up 65% of its users and generate 56% of total revenue. Netflix is far and away the world leader in distribution.
But expanding distribution globally is nothing new. That’s been Hollywood’s strategy for generations. Think big production budgets, special effects, and guys in capes. Netflix’s innovation was committing to “glocal” content — content sourced and distributed locally with global scale and Nasdaq capital to build an army that’s registered historic success. The company is now investing in original programming in 40 countries and has produced original scripted shows in 20 foreign languages. It’s spent more than $1 billion on Korean content alone. This year the company has either built or announced plans to build two production facilities in South Korea, offices in Canada, Italy, Colombia, and Turkey, a production hub in Sweden, and a full-service post-production facility in India. In each country, Netflix hires content executives to commission work from the local creative community.
The obvious benefit is more local content. South Koreans like Spider-Man and Star Wars, but they have their own cultural traditions and preferences, too, as do the other 189 non-U.S. countries in Netflix’s empire. This is true in other industries. Only 10% of Nestlé brands are in more than one country, and fewer than 1% are in more than 10, as it recognizes people want global scale but local products. Consumers in other nations face a choice: the production values of U.S. content or the relevance and connection of local content. Netflix offers both, and it can now provide more home cooking than any other firm. Take HBO Max. Its user interface cannot be changed from English, and it’s produced original scripted programming in just two languages other than English. Peacock, Paramount+, and Apple TV+ have all produced none.
The secret weapon here is boring and obvious — brute strength. Netflix will spend as much on content this year as Apple, Facebook, or Samsung spend on R&D. Disney and Warner/Discovery can claim they spend more, but their munitions are spent across multiple offerings/brands with different business models. Netflix’s investment in glocal content is now paying off at home as well as abroad: U.S. consumption of its non-English-language programming has grown 71% since 2019, and 97% of American Netflix subscribers have watched at least one non-English title in the past year. Read that last sentence again. This is a radical change to the American media landscape. Meanwhile, the number of Americans studying Korean on Duolingo has spiked this month. Should we really have a best “foreign” film award?
Per Ted Sarandos (the other CEO), Squid Game is likely to be Netflix’s most successful series ever. That means two of its top three series will be internationally produced: Squid Game Season 1 (South Korea), Bridgerton Season 1 (U.S.), and Money Heist Season 4 (Spain). Expect to see more subtitles moving forward.
While Netflix ascends, the previous prestige television king has lost its crown in a corporate swamp. HBO has demonstrated remarkable resilience, and the case study that still needs to be written is how its culture continues to do more with less. The firm’s in late-stage puberty — it’s now in its forties — and converting to a streaming platform was as awkward as it sounds.
AT&T should never have owned it and, to its credit, recognized this and spun it to Discovery. But Discovery will probably inherit AT&T’s legacy shareholder base, which likes dividends and may not have the stomach for the kinds of investments required to muscle up and glocalize. Discovery Inc.’s first-half revenue is up 12% from last year, to $3 billion. That sounds nice until you realize it’s a fifth of Netflix’s H1 revenue and is still dependent on advertising through linear channels. Put another way, AT&T shareholders may still be in a consensual hallucination that you can have ATT profits with NFLX growth. You can’t, and the transition period will likely produce neither. The wild card may be CNN+ — rumor is they’ve signed up some remarkable talent. Yep, we’re talking dragons, bounty hunters, scorching-hot dukes, and sublime chess protégés, all wrapped into one person. So excited for them. But I digress.
A scenario: Discovery misses a quarter, as companies do, and the shareholder base realizes this is not the guy they thought they were marrying and bail. Stock takes a hit and invites a new, older suitor, as it’s the only media firm with iconic assets that can be acquired — others are too big or have dual-class shareholder structures. The inamorato is from Philadelphia, rough around the edges … and rich. Comcast has the capital and the backbone (see above: Philadelphia) and likely already realizes its homegrown effort (Peacock) is fighting Panzers on horseback.
Unleash the Mouse
Disney had the most impressive launch in OTT history, but its staggering potential is still unrecognized. The company should double down on the rundle (recurring revenue bundle) model and tie all its assets into a tiered subscription offering. Disney² members would get exclusive access to Disney parks, experiences, and merchandise, which today account for 34% of the company’s total revenue. Disney is Lebron James in junior high school: It’s got unmatched assets but is short on coordination.
Our D² rundle vision included a new content feature: edutainment. We suggested the company launch an education product for kids in grades K-12, advice the company seemed to take halfheartedly onboard. In July, Disney licensed its characters to an Indian education company, Byju’s, to launch a learning app in the U.S. — a start, but I still think Disney should take matters into its own hands. The synergy of education with parks, merchandise, streaming, and singular IP is a subscription-based motherload the company hasn’t tapped.
I correctly predicted Amazon would add health care to its ever-accelerating flywheel. I could not have predicted it would pick up James Bond along the way. Amazon announced the acquisition of MGM Studios in May for $8.5 billion (subject to antitrust review), more than double what Disney paid for Marvel or Lucasfilm. Bob Iger’s balance sheet used to be his superpower. But $386 billion in annual revenue and a $1.7 trillion market cap make Amazon a formidable force in M&A. It now leads all streamers as measured by number of titles. There are seven times as many movies on Prime Video than on Netflix.
Roku has quietly gone door to door through the streaming neighborhood, picking up partnership deals with major distributors. It’s now a key operating system for content. In the second quarter, the company registered an almost 20% increase in TV viewing hours year over year, compared to the slight hit other streaming platforms took when we began our slow return to a less-indoor life.
The market has provided Roku with the capital to go hunting, even if its first kill is a newborn wildebeest that never learned to walk. Roku acquired Quibi’s assets this year for a seventeenth of the funding raised to create its content. It still may have overpaid.
The Silent General
Apple doesn’t release any financial data for its streaming product, nor does it report its subscriber numbers. I don’t see this as cause for concern. Apple TV+ is Roman Roy — it doesn’t matter how badly it fucks up … it’s going to be successful, because Dad owns the railroad. Ted Lasso is a good, if not great show. If it was on Hulu, it would be a cult hit getting a fraction of the views and buzz. BTW, if someone showed you Ted Lasso a decade ago and told you either Apple or Nike had produced it, you’d have guessed Nike. Nike should and will get into the content game. But that’s another post.
In sum: Netflix goes global, Disney grows into its content body, HBO ends up with a third owner in as many years, Roku takes off its glasses and becomes the hot girl, the swoosh shows up with sports content, and Amazon and Apple continue to underwhelm but eventually land on their feet, as they were born into privilege.
What’s the key takeaway, the only thing I’m sure of? I can’t wait for Season 3 of Succession.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Going with your gut is fine, going with data is better. Learn to make data-backed business decisions at every level of your organization in Tom Davenport’s The Principles of Data & Analytics Sprint featuring special guest lecturer, Jonathan Francis, Chief Analytics Officer at Starbucks. Sign up now. Opportunities like this don’t come along too often.