Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Seeking Shared Experiences – does all content have to be served “on demand” or is there still a role for broadcast moments?

By Dan Plant, Executive Head of Strategy, Starcom 

At the back end of 2020, there was a media news story that garnered minimal coverage, but I found fascinating.

Netflix – the business that virtually invented on-demand, instant gratification, binge viewing entertainment – yes that Netflix – is launching a linear broadcast TV channel in France called Netflix Direct.

Now, this isn’t a “best of” free to air channel designed to give people a taste of the Netflix product and encourage them to subscribe. Instead, it is only available to people who already have a subscription. This is seen as an added value to people who are already loyal Netflix customers.

Initially, this seemed like a completely regressive move. Why would people want to watch shows according to a pre-determined schedule when they can just choose exactly what they want, whenever they want it. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt it might just be a genius idea.

I’m a big fan of Netflix (full disclosure, they were a client of mine in a former role), but as a consumer, I do feel like there are a couple of challenges in the model.

The first is that it suffers from the “Paradox of choice” (as Barry Schwartz would call it). This paradox is that the greater the range of options, the harder it is to ever choose one because of the opportunity cost of eliminating the other options. That paradox was beautifully summed up by The Onion a few years ago with their spoof “Browse Endlessly and never watch anything” Netflix Tariff. 

Sometimes, people don’t want their entertainment choices for the day to be a deep and meaningful life decision – they sometimes just want to see “what’s on”. Just turning on a broadcast channel and letting it run increases the opportunity for a highly desirable moment of serendipity – the perfect show at the perfect time just by chance.

The other flaw with the On-demand entertainment world is that you never know what your friends are watching, which means you rarely get those moments of “did you see such and such last night” because the chance of your friends watching the same episode of the same show the night before is vanishingly small.

Again, having a broadcast linear channel helps overcome that flaw. If you know your friends are watching it, there is a much greater chance that when you are watching you are experiencing a shared moment with your wider community.

Those shared moments have become increasingly important during lockdown as we have been physically isolated from each other. I remember being surprised but reassured that although all forms of audio entertainment grew in lockdown, it was actually live radio that got by far the biggest boost. People wanted to hear what other people were hearing at that time, to feel connected to a greater whole, rather than just their own isolated personally curated playlist.

I think this new Netflix channel could help overcome both of those flaws and give viewers moments of shared serendipity which may be more memorable and more powerful than any binge-watching session.

There are learnings here for brands and their communications as well. We all know the potential benefits of highly targeted, personalised and relevant messaging for optimal ROI, but we must also make space for those serendipitous shared experiences that build a consensus of approval around your brand. Netflix should no more abandon their on-demand model than we should stop trying to make our messages as relevant as possible to the individual, but it is the balance of these approaches that I believe will deliver ever-greater success for our brands and businesses.