Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Netflix original programming: trying to stay ahead of the competition?

Netflix has been through some hard times lately, and the industry is evolving in ways that will continue to challenge their core business model. A combined deal between Redbox and Verizon has been struck in order to offer streaming video. Redbox is also buying out DVD kiosks owned by Netflix' old rival, Blockbuster, to expand their on-the-ground presence.

Netflix is already in a market with big-name competitors for streaming video - Hulu, Apple, Amazon and Walmart, to name a few - as well new outfits such as Zediva (which offered rock-bottom prices, but ran into legal troubles due to avoidance of content licensing fees). Netflix sets itself apart with the DVD mailing program, but Redbox is now well-positioned to compete on that front as well.

How to stay ahead of the curve? Netflix just introduced their first offering of original programming, Lillyhammer, with more shows planned in the next year.  Now, with Netflix moving toward an "HBO model" of producing and distributing their own content, their core business will be changing.

There is some clear logic to this decision: instead of paying extravagant licensing fees to stream content (the deal with DreamWorks is estimated to place a $30 million price tag on each film) new shows can be produced internally. New exclusive content could also pull in subscribers drawn to a particular actor or show; this may explain why Netflix is rumored to be producing Arrested Development Season 4.

During the short-lived introduction of 'Qwikster', some speculated that Netflix was drifting away from its core expertise. It's not immediately clear how DVD mailing translates to streaming content. Now, the company is shifting its role once more, and one is left to ask whether film production is also part of the Netflix tool kit.

Vertical integration in the entertainment industry is hardly a new phenomenon. But, most television networks started off producing content, and then acquired more means for distributing it. Netflix got into the distribution business first, and now is trying to backpedal into producing as well.

It's unclear whether the few big-name offerings which Netflix will produce are enough to distinguish them from the other streaming services. But, facing stiff competition in both physical and online distribution channels, moving up the content production chain may be the only choice they have in order to stay relevant.

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