• Top Rental Data from Netflix is More Evidence that Warner Bros. Deal is a Win

    Following my 2 posts late last week (here and here) about how Netflix's new deal with Warner Bros is win for everyone, the NYTimes has posted a terrific interactive map showing the top rentals in 12 geographic areas of the U.S., sorted by zip code. The map is based on data that Netflix provided to the NYTimes. Playing around with the map, you'll quickly hunger for more details, but you'll also get a sense of the mountain of viewership data Netflix maintains on its 11 million+ subscribers. This data, when combined with the Netflix's algorithms for predicting its users' preferences, further demonstrates how valuable a deal like the one with WB could be for Netflix as it emphasizes streaming.

    In the digital era, data is king because when used properly, it can dramatically improve the quality of the product delivered, in turn driving user satisfaction and profitability. Netflix has always used data very effectively; examples include how it has chosen sites for its distribution centers so that most Americans are within 1 day's delivery, or how it has recommended other titles based on yours and others' preferences, or how much inventory of newly-released DVDs it decides to build. Now, as Netflix shifts its business from physical to digital delivery, it has another big opportunity to leverage the data it has collected from its users.

    While a lot of attention was focused last week on the new 28-day "DVD window" which precludes Netflix from renting recently-released WB titles, I believe more attention should be paid instead to how effectively Netflix will be able to use its trove of data to selectively tap into WB's catalog of titles to boost its streaming selection. Using the data it has collected on physical rentals and search queries, for example, Netflix should be able to literally request title-by-title streaming rights from WB. That's not to say Netflix will necessarily receive access to those particular titles, but by being able to focus its requests, Netflix avoids wasting energy asking for things that are unlikely to have much appeal to its users.

    It's interesting to talk to friends who are Netflix users, including those who don't work in technology-related industries. They have an amazingly high awareness and usage of Netflix's streaming and recognize that it represents the company's future. It's also obvious to them how meager the options are in Watch Instantly as compared with DVD and desperately want more choice. Netflix knows all this, as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said last week, "our number one objective now is expanding the digital catalog." But Netflix is in a tight position to get new releases due to existing output deals that Hollywood studios maintain with HBO and other premium channels for electronic delivery. So, as with the WB deal, and others likely to follow, Netflix is trying to be clever about how it builds its streaming catalog by tapping into older, but still valuable titles.

    It's unclear whether Netflix will conclude similar deals with other Hollywood studios. If it can't then the above-described benefits will be limited. In fact, as a couple of people pointed out to me last week, with Hollywood also highly dependent on cable, it's not readily apparent that helping Netflix build its streaming selection is actually in their interest as TV Everywhere services continue to roll out. WB is actually an interesting example; on the one hand, Time Warner's CEO Jeff Bewkes has been the strongest proponent of TV Everywhere, but on the other hand, WB's deal with Netflix creates more competition for it. In short, Hollywood will have its hands full trying to recast its distribution strategy in the digital era.

    DVDs are not going away overnight, but the user data Netflix has will be an enormously valuable tool in helping transition its business to digital delivery and add more value to its subscribers. As long as Netflix complies with its users' privacy expectations, that gives it a big strategic advantage.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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