What is Netflix’s next big move in the streaming wars? They’re already burning through cash to amass a library of original content, to stay one step ahead of Amazon, Hulu, YouTube TV/Red, and (soon) Disney, according to MarketWatch. The bigger problem for Netflix: their competition has unique features and functionality they can’t (currently) match.
All of the streaming services offer TV reruns, licensed movies, and original series and films via desktop, smart TV, and mobile. But Netflix’s competitors also provide added value to their subscribers: Hulu and YouTube have live TV streaming, including local channels; Amazon Video is bundled within the Prime shopping and delivery service; Disney has their unparalleled vault of branded shows and movies, plus ESPN sports, Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm. Netflix needs to add something new, unique, and compelling for their subscribers… or risk losing them in the coming years.
News and current events is emerging as one potential area of interest for Netflix — a genre none of the other streaming services have yet explored. Netflix already has a healthy archive of acclaimed documentaries, and they’ve recently invested in current affairs talk shows too; David Letterman, Joel McHale, Hasan Minhaj, Michelle Wolf, and Norm MacDonald have joined with Netflix to bring new and established voices to their original programming catalog.
However, Netflix’s originals, documentaries, and talk shows do not exactly air on a fixed schedule. And the key to winning the streaming game — aka attracting and retaining subscribers — is destination programming, which implies some kind of schedule regularity. In other words, keeping your paying audience means giving them something to watch with a fixed cadence; it’s hard to capture viewers for a given show or franchise when it airs only a few times a year or just randomly drops.
News programming, particularly in the Trump era, is attracting viewers in record numbers while building brand loyalty at MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News, as reported by AdWeek. A TV executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, recently told MarketWatch:
Netflix have spotted a hole in the market for a current affairs TV show encompassing both sides of the political divide and are seeking to fill it.”
News and current affairs are typically the domain of traditional broadcast and cable networks, which Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix have so far avoided. But Netflix believes it can exploit the opportunity. The same MarketWatch source related that Netflix is planning a weekly news magazine similar to CBS’ 60 Minutes or ABC’s 20/20.
The risk is that news and magazine shows are costly, often the biggest cost centers at the big four networks. For example, an average segment on 60 Minutes can exceed six figures to produce, according to BusinessInsider. If a typical season is 26 weeks of 3-4 segments per episode, it’s easy to see how just one news magazine show can cost tens of millions dollars. Netflix is no stranger to risk, but they’re taking this initiative one step at a time:
Netflix are proceeding with caution over this because they’re well aware that most new current affairs shows underwhelm and are expensive. They want to make their show economically viable without compromising the production costs and news gathering operation.”
Netflix and weekly news shows or magazines are an intriguing combination. Currently, none of Netflix’s original content airs with the kind of predictable regularity of 60 Minutes, but if they can establish a compelling premise, hire quality journalists, and put their financial muscle behind it, there’s every reason to believe this is the next battlefield in the ongoing streaming wars.