Why Netflix Might Embrace Advertising

Why Netflix Might Embrace Advertising

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Netflix and its boosters are celebrating the company’s first ever Best Picture Oscar nomination for Roma – but the company is also catching fire from investors. Although its fourth-quarter 2018 financial results beat Wall Street estimates for earnings per share, revenue fell below projections.

Netflix also faces other formidable challenges, such as increased competition from streaming services (e.g., Amazon and Hulu), the entrance of new services such as Disney+, and the enormous cost of spending on original content. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Netflix has raised prices. But in recent months, Netflix has also been testing ads between episodes, and its customers have not been happy about this development. The company said that trailer tests were just a way to surface new programs to loyal viewers, claiming it will help members “discover stories they will enjoy faster.”

With pressure coming from multiple sides, how can Netflix increase revenue and expand its subscriber base without losing its customers?

Competition from Hulu

We’ve seen at least one streaming service employ advertising: Hulu. When Hulu first launched in 2007, all content was completely free and supported by advertisements. In 2010, the company launched its first subscription option while maintaining the original ad-supported tier. Then in late 2016, the brand migrated towards a subscription model. Today Hulu offers ad-supported and ad-free pricing tiers.

The ad-supported tier has served Hulu well by increasing brand awareness and expanding its subscriber base. Granted, Netflix does not need to boost brand recognition. However, Netflix (and Amazon, for that matter) could benefit from this strategy if it wants to enter into new markets, which should be a priority for Netflix given the financial turmoil the brand has been recently experiencing.

Providing an ad-supported service plan might sound like a step backwards to Netflix stockholders. If Hulu moved away from it, why would Netflix bother?

  1. Original Content

The creation of original content is perhaps the most dramatic change in the way streaming services operate. Whereas audiences used to turn to streaming services to watch, say Finding Nemo, people now use these services for original movies and shows, a reality that was underscored by Netflix’s Roma being nominated for 10 Academy Awards.

With Disney’s new movie streaming platform launching later this year, it is clear that movie streaming companies no longer want to simply be a content warehouse, storing thousands of movies and TV shows made by third parties. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon want to lure potential customers into becoming subscribers through their exclusive movies and shows. This means that streaming platforms have the bargaining power, as they all have some unique value nobody will find elsewhere.

The quality content matters. Unique content attracts more paying subscribers, which gives Netflix a bigger platform for potential advertising. With 139 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix could easily increase that number by introducing an ad-supported tier. Doing so would also help relieve some of the financial pressure caused by the expensive production costs of original content – around $12 billion in 2018 alone, and expected to grow by 25 percent  to a whopping $15 billion mark in 2019.

  1. Google/Facebook Duopoly

It’s no secret that a large number of companies today are directing a good portion of their ad spend to Google and Facebook/Instagram (and, increasingly, Amazon). Other channels simply cannot match the performance, scale, and targeting capabilities of these tech giants. The growth of these platforms also reflects the strength of the digital advertising industry and suggests that there is room for more businesses to launch advertising based on their built-in audiences. As noted, Netflix has a growing audience with 139 million subscribers – and Netflix aspires to grow more especially outside the United States.

3 Targeting Capabilities

Knowledge is power. Think about all the behavioral data and Netflix has on its subscribers. Netflix can offer advertisers advanced interest targeting based on their activity on each platform. By using algorithms and machine learning, Netflix can predict which type of content a specific user may want to consume next. This data could also be used to serve users ads that are relevant, and for marketers, effective. In addition, with the help of pixels, Netflix would be able to collect data outside its environment just like Google and Facebook do, thus providing advertisers with more insights on the consumer behavior outside the streaming services and the customer journey.

It’s too soon yet to know if Netflix will launch an ad-supported tier. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does in the near future, as companies built on the “ad-free” premise are now acknowledging their advertising potential and evaluating the cost-benefit relationship of introducing ads to their platforms, just like Whatsapp. Is advertising revenue too tempting for Netflix?

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