Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Netflix vs. HBO: a tale of two strategies

HBO’s current profit model is simple but effective. People pay a fee (something like $15 a month) to subscribe; HBO uses that money to license movies and produce TV for subscribers to watch. Because of the company’s longtime reputation for high-quality, Emmy-winning shows like Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies, plenty of people subscribe, and HBO makes a lot of money. 
Netflix’s business approach, again, is about scale and is underwritten by investors. The company has focused on getting more worldwide users and hiking its subscription fee to increase revenues. But producing more original shows means Netflix burns through more money—a March 2017 report found Netflix had a negative free cash flow of $2.1 billion. A few months later, the company said in a letter to shareholders that it would remain in the negative for years, but that the investment would crucially help the company spread across the globe.

Now that HBO has been acquired by ATT, it is being pushed to mimic the Netflix strategy:

In this age, as Stankey made clear, “hours of engagement” are what matter most. Executives have long factored viewing data extracted from subscribers into their programming decisions, but online services can mine our viewing preferences much more minutely. The more data, the easier it is to understand what people want—at least that’s been Netflix’s guiding principle as it makes hits like House of Cards and Stranger Things, which are calibrated to play on audience nostalgia. But the idea that numbers alone will drive good or popular art is ludicrous; Netflix has made plenty of shows that haven’t hit the mark with audiences, like any other network.

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