What’s Next for Netflix?

What’s Next for Netflix?

Remember when Meta shocked the world by announcing a historic drop in its stock price? Well, Meta has some company now that Netflix realized a massive drop in its own market capitalization after announcing that the streaming service had lost subscribers for the first time in 10 years. The news shook investors, but it also inspired speculation about new directions for Netflix – notably the likely introduction of advertising, a move that Netflix has resisted for years. But times have changed, and now Netflix must adapt or die. Here’s what I think will happen next:

  • Advertising will happen sooner than you think. Netflix said it will take a few years to integrate ads into the platform. But I’m thinking it will take months. The company has endured two consecutive disastrous quarters and forecast another bad one on the way. Netflix is under too much pressure to wait two years. Plus, its audience is receptive: two-thirds of connected TV viewers in the U.S. prefer to see ads if they can pay less for the service, according to a recent survey conducted by DeepIntent and LG Ads Solutions. On top of that, Netflix is already set up to create an ad business. The company is sitting on top of deep first-party data. All Netflix needs to do is partner with an ad tech platform to get an ad business up and running. (The Trade Desk has been circulated as a likely partner.) And watching content on streaming is a pretty straightforward experience: it’s easy to drop in ad spots before or after shows, and during them, just like linear TV. And connected TV offers even more options such as ads appearing alongside the search bar or in the screen menu. Knowing Netflix’s aversion to advertising, I suspect the company will avoid interruptive ads even for a lower-price tier.
  • Ads will get creative. Sure, we’ll see plenty of traditional commercial spots like you see on Hulu. But Netflix has been quietly building a merchandising operation over the past few years. The company recently launched its own digital commerce site to sell clothing tied into its popular shows. Netflix will likely create merchandise licensing deals to feature products from other businesses in its shows, such as Stranger Things. So far, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been reluctant to go down this route. But all bets are off now.
  • Netflix will get sold. I don’t think advertising will be a savior for Netflix. True, there is a receptive audience, but is there enough to sustain Netflix’s future? I predict that Netflix will be sold to Apple. Apple launched its own streaming service, Apple TV+, in 2019, and the company is hungry to grow. Apple has deep pockets and is eager to achieve brand cachet, which it lacks right now. But Netflix has plenty of brand cachet. I could see Apple buying Netflix but allowing the company to keep its own name. The most expensive part of owning a streaming service is creating contentNetflix gives Apple TV+ a way to accelerate content development.

What Brands Should Do

The Netflix news is a wake-up call for advertisers to embrace connected TV. The only reason Netflix has a future is because connected TV (CTV) has evolved far enough to allow for ads in the first place. Oh, and guess what? Executives at competitors such as Disney+ are doing exactly what Netflix is doing. Hulu, for one, already figured out how to crack the code with CTV ads.

According to Forbes, a recent study from the Leichtman Research Group estimates that 80 percent of TV homes in the U.S. have at least one connected TV device. That number represents a steady increase from the 57 percent logged in 2015, and 24 percent in 2010.

Predictably, CTV use soared during the pandemic: Forbes also cites a Nielson report, which notes that CTV viewing exploded from 2.7 billion hours during the pre-pandemic week of March 2, to 3.9 billion hours during the weeks of March 23, March 30, and April 6. Even during the week of May 4, when stay-at-home laws eased in some states, CTV viewing remained above pre-pandemic levels at 3.5 billion hours.

These stats are good news for advertisers embracing CTV. So is the fact that CTV allows brands to reach out to specific audiences. As Forbes notes, “CTV’s targeting capabilities are the ‘holy grail’ for advertisers.” Many CTV companies use ACR, or Automated Content Recognition, which collects data that can inform programming recommendations for users and better target ads to niche groups. Although audiences in the era of connected TV may not be as huge as the linear TV days, CTV helps brands better understand and reach their niche market effectively.

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