Analysis for 'Warner Bros.'

  • 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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  • 4 Items Worth Noting for the Jan 4th Week (Netflix-WB Continued, comScore Nov. '09 stats, TV Everywhere, 3D at CES)

    Following are 4 items worth noting for the Jan 4th week:

    1. TechCrunch disagrees with my Netflix-Warner Bros. deal analysis - In "Netflix Stabs Us In The Heart So Hollywood Can Drink Our Blood," (great title btw) MG Siegler at the influential blog TechCrunch excerpts part of my post from yesterday, and takes the consumer's point of view, decrying the new 28 day "DVD window" that Netflix has agreed to in its Warner Bros deal. Siegler's main objection is that "Hollywood thinks that with this new 28-day DVD window deal, the masses are going to rush out and buy DVDs in droves again." Instead, Siegler believes the deal hurts consumers and is going to touch off new, widespread piracy.

    I think Siegler is wrong on both counts, and many of TechCrunch's readers commenting on the post do as well. First, nobody in Hollywood believes DVD sales are going to spike because of deals like this. However, they do believe that any little bit that can be done to preserve the appeal of DVD's initial sale window can only help DVD sales which are critical to Hollywood's economics. Everyone knows DVD is a dying business; the new window is intended to help it die more gracefully. And because new releases are not that critical to many Netflix users anyway, Netflix has in reality given up little, but presumably gotten a lot, with improved access for streaming and lower DVD purchase prices.

    The argument about new, widespread piracy by Netflix users is specious. With or without the 28 day window, there will always be some people who don't respect copyright and think stealing is acceptable. But Netflix isn't running its business with pirates as their top priority. With 11 million subscribers and growing, Netflix is a mainstream-oriented business, and the vast majority of its users are not going to pirate movies - both because they don't know how to (and don't want to learn) and because they think it's wrong. Netflix knows this and is making a calculated long-term bet (correctly in my opinion) that enhancing its streaming catalog is priority #1.

    2. comScore's November numbers show continued video growth - Not to be overlooked in all the CES-related news this week was comScore's report of November '09 online video usage, which set new records. Key highlights: total video viewed were almost 31 billion (double Jan '09's total of 14.8 billion), number of videos viewed/average viewer was 182 (up 80% from Jan '09's 101) and minutes watched/mo were approximately 740 (more than double Jan '09's total of 356).

    Notably, with 12.2 billion views, YouTube's Nov '09 market share of 39.4% grew vs. its October share of 37.7%. As I've previously pointed out, YouTube has demonstrated amazingly consistent market dominance, with its share hovering around 40% since March '08. Hulu also notched another record month, with 924 million streams, putting it in 2nd place (albeit distantly) to YouTube. Still, Hulu had a blowout year, nearly quadrupling its viewership (up from Jan '09's 250 million views). But with 44 million visitors, Hulu's traffic was pretty close to March '09's 41.6 million. In '10 I'm looking to see what Hulu's going to do to break out of the 40-45 million users/mo band it was in for much of '09.

    3. Consumer groups protest TV Everywhere, but their arguments ring hollow - I was intrigued by a joint letter that 4 consumer advocacy groups sent to the Justice Department on Monday, urging it to investigate "potentially unlawful conduct by MVPDs (Multichannel Video Programming Distributors) offering TV Everywhere services." The letter asserts that MVPDs may have colluded in violation of antitrust laws.

    I'm not a lawyer and so I'm in no position to judge whether any actions alleged to have taken place by MVPDs violated any antitrust laws. Regardless though, the letter from these groups demonstrates that they are missing a fundamental benefit of TV Everywhere - to provide online access to cable TV programming that has not been available to date because there hasn't been an economical model for doing so. In the eyes of people who think that making money is evil, the TV Everywhere model of requiring consumers to first subscribe to a multichannel video service seems anti-consumer and anti-competitive. But to people trying to make a living creating quality TV programming, the preservation of a highly functional business model is essential.

    These advocacy groups need to remember that consumers have a choice; if they don't value cable's programming enough to pay for it, then they can instead just watch free broadcast programs.

    4. 3D is the rage at CES - I'll be doing a CES recap on Monday, but one of the key themes of the show has been 3D. There were two big announcements of new 3D channels, from ESPN and Discovery/Sony/IMAX. LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony announced new 3D TVs. And DirecTV announced that it would launch 3 new 3D channels by June 2010, with Panasonic as the presenting sponsor. 3D sets will be an expensive proposition for consumers for some time, but prices will of course come down over time.

    Something that I wonder about is what impact will 3D have on online and mobile video? Will this spur innovation in computer monitors so that the 3D experience can be experienced online as well? And how about mobile - will we soon be slipping on 3D glasses while looking at our iPhones and Android phones? It may seem like a ridiculous idea, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

    Enjoy your weekend!

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