Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Navigating to a better service

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast April 09, 2015

As Netflix shows, success isn’t just down to content, says Kate Bulkley

As anxious fans await series five of Game Of Thrones next week on Sky Atlantic, it is beyond doubt that high-quality drama is the big thing for just about everyone in the television business.

When Downton Abbey’s producers announced that they will bring the curtain down on the show after the next series, it was front page news; when House Of Cards (pictured) returned to Netflix, there was a significant ripple in the media world, and last week All3Media bought Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions because of shows like Call The Midwife and Penny Dreadful. Now ITV is talking to The Weinstein Company about a reported $950m (Ł620m) bid for its TV arm, which is quietly building its scripted slate.

But the rise of drama as the hot TV commodity is not happening in a vacuum. It reveals other key ingredients to succeeding as a content producer and platform provider in the digital world, including the need for better navigation and personalisation.

Having good content is crucial, but the best platforms are also learning that it is not enough just to shout loud at the potential audience in the hope that they find this programming.

This is why HBO (perhaps the king of the scripted stuff ) has launched HBO Go and soon HBO Now – services that are available outside of the walled garden of a pay-TV system that it began way back in 1972.

This kind of ubiquitous availability, combined with great navigation and recommendation, is why Netflix has been so successful in attracting 57 million subscribers worldwide.

But it’s not simply about navigation and a better pay-TV price point. Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings put it succinctly when he said in 2013 that he aspired to be a “next-generation HBO” before HBO had a chance to do that itself. “The goal,” he said, “is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”.

While HBO has the content nous and is learning about the new realities of reaching the consumer, Netflix has the distribution and platform chops, and has begun ploughing significant cash into drama series, including its first UK original commission, The Crown.

Better data, better algorithms and a global scale to commission and acquire content puts Netflix and its digital brethren like Amazon into a new league. A producer such as HBO sees this and wants it too.

When Netflix started up, traditional TV players dismissed it as a glorified VoD service that would never unseat the industry players. Then there was concern that Netflix would kill TV. Now, perhaps a better characterisation is that Netflix has spurred the TV business to move faster in creating better consumer offers.

Channel 4’s launch of All 4 last week, to replace its 4oD catch-up TV service, is a case in point. Recasting its digital offer as a three-pronged service including catch-up, live TV and ‘coming soon’ is about ensuring C4 remains relevant to its target millennial audience.

For a long time, the phrase ‘what you want to watch, when you want to watch it’ has been thrown around as the solution to most of TV’s problems. It’s still true – and the only drama now is how to get there faster.

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