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失去《老友记》不是问题,但Netflix需要加倍努力

Dan Reilly 2019年08月01日

Netflix在流媒体领域里的主导地位正在下滑,但有很多理由相信,它能够避免大批量用户流失。

随着大量竞争对手即将上线,《老友记》(Friends)和《办公室》(The Office)等剧集退出Netflix,人们理所当然就认为Netflix遇到了麻烦。的确如此,它在这个领域里的主导地位正在下滑,从它上季度增长疲软、流失了近13万付费用户就可以看出。尽管迪士尼+、HBO Max、NCB环球(NBCUniversal)和苹果(Apple)的流媒体服务都将在不久后的将来面世,但有很多理由相信,该公司将能够避免大批量用户流失。

大部分专家认为,原创节目很可能成为流媒体平台能否称霸的最终决定因素,但Netflix如何能够继续占据主导地位却仍然面临着许多问题。

“(第二季度)的业绩与竞争无关,因为苹果、迪士尼、HBO Max等公司的流媒体服务仍未面世。”研究公司Frost and Sullivan的首席分析师丹·雷伯恩表示,“内容为王,尤其是观众喜欢的原创剧集是最重要的。随着Netflix在第三、第四季度推出更多原创内容,用户增长应该会恢复。对Netflix而言,第二季度的表现十分糟糕,但他们仍然远远领先于市场上的其他公司。”

因此,这种糟糕的业绩应该会因为7月《怪奇物语》(Stranger Things)的成功和暑期票房的低迷开始被抵消,这表明Netflix的未来之路虽将更加艰难,但并没有被淘汰出局。

下列几条原因部分解释了为什么即使Netflix失去了备受欢迎的第三方剧集,即使激烈的行业竞争日益迫近,也并不意味着公司前景黯淡,也说明了该公司应当如何提升内容和企业行为以保持增长:

失去“爽心内容”并不是什么大问题

尼尔森的报告和其他数据分析表明,Netflix自己也承认,《办公室》和《老友记》都位居Netflix最受欢迎的节目之列。不过,没有确切的数据——就《办公室》而言,Netflix只是说:“2018年,它的总播放时长超过520亿分钟,而在2019年4月,它的观看量几乎是播放量第二高的节目的两倍。”

但这只能发告诉公众,这部剧和其他节目相比表现如何,而无法看出它在全部剧集的播放量中所占份额。《老友记》的受欢迎程度仍然是个谜,不过正如南加州大学安能伯格数字未来中心(USC Annenberg Center for The Digital Future)的创始人及主任杰弗里·科尔所言,“他们愿意为《老友记》1年支付1亿美元,这个事实显示出他们对这部剧的重视程度。”研究公司MoffettNathanson对11000多名Netflix订阅用户进行的一项最新调查显示,在Netflix最受欢迎的20部电视节目中,有15部是原创剧,其中《女子监狱》(Orange Is the New Black)和《怪奇物语》位居榜首。上榜的共有四部第三方电视剧,《办公室》和《老友记》分别排在第9位和第10位,落后于Netflix的其他原创剧和“电影”这一囊括一切的类别。

“它很受欢迎,但它能够让你留下来吗?”雷伯恩说,“受欢迎与否并不重要——你只需要关心这部剧可以留住用户还是会失去用户。我没听说会有哪个人说:‘我必须订HBO Max的会员,因为他们有《老友记》。’”

竞争对手很多,但细节很少

在众多即将推出的流媒体服务中,只有迪士尼提供了具体细节。我们知道迪士尼的流媒体服务将于11月12日面世,每个月的订阅费是6.99美元,收录了该公司旗下的大量电影,包括皮克斯(Pixar)、漫威(Marvel)和《星球大战》(Star Wars)系列。NBC环球表示,它的服务将提供两种选择:一种是面向有线电视用户的免费版,由广告费用支持;另一种是付费版,价格尚未公布,但有传言称,将在10至14美元之间,面向的是不愿看广告以及没有有线电视的用户。

据报道,HBO Max每月订阅费为16到17美元,内容包括HBO旗下的剧集以及华纳传媒的许多节目,母公司美国电话电报公司(AT&T)官宣的包括《老友记》、《贝莱尔的新鲜王子》(The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)和《美少女的谎言》(Pretty Little Liars)。“这是三部大剧,这些剧集让他们的服务具有革命性。你是HBO啊,你准备用这些内容霸屏吗?”雷伯恩说。

与此同时,Apple TV+并没有确定的推出日期、价格,也没有任何信息透露没有苹果设备的用户将如何观看它的内容。到目前为止,仅仅宣布了一些原创节目,以及与奥普拉、斯皮尔伯格、JJ·艾布拉姆斯和詹妮弗·安妮斯顿等人达成的协议。

虽然迪士尼+看起来会大受欢迎,但看它的定位,不会成为狙击Netflix的杀手。 “这个派对上唯一有点特别的是迪士尼,因为他们是唯一拥有工作室的品牌。”科尔说,“6.99美元是个很吸引人的价格。但我不认为人们需要在‘Netflix或迪士尼’之间做选择。”

Netflix正在提升其原创内容(但仍有进步空间)

一旦所有的流媒体服务项目都上线运行,决定人们给谁花钱的最关键因素是原创内容的质量、数量和连贯性。Netflix在《女子监狱》和《怪奇物语》等剧集上显然做得非常好,但它需要调整自己的方式,避免人们在没有热门节目时取消订阅,好节目上线时再重新续订。

“现在每家公司都在争抢同一批观众和他们手里的钱。”雷伯恩说,“消费者不会同时订阅10项服务,所以他们必须选出自己想要的内容,这些服务必须都在创造看起来非常好的原创内容。Hulu注意到人们在不断退订再续订他们的直播服务。篮球赛季开始了,用户就订阅两个月,然后停三个月。切换很容易,这对消费者来说是件好事。他们会不断地在不同服务中间跳跃。”

Netflix已经开始转型,从拥有数万部剧集、重视广度和深度的服务,转向对内容进行精挑细选、精心展示的服务,这既带来了问题,也带来了机遇。

一家电影融资在线市场(为项目、投资者和发行方牵线)的首席执行官斯蒂芬·帕特诺特说,以前“谁能够搞清楚如何流畅地播放视频,谁就可以占领整个市场”,Netflix那时拥有一片绿地,“我把它称为‘第一阶段’,目的是尽可能多地吸引全世界用户订阅流媒体服务。‘第二阶段’是,‘我们如何制作出最好的内容,同时还能节约成本?’Netflix已经发现了,制作1000部电视剧,在其中找到10部好剧,这种做法无效资本率非常高。他们要如何在全球范围内提升内容,吸引不同语言、文化和兴趣的观众?”

科尔认同,Netflix必须在成本控制方面做得更好,但他认为解决方法不是继续制作这么多电视剧,还有其他方案。“Netflix必须减少节目数量,提高节目质量。HBO用 25亿美元制作的内容,比Netflix花120亿美元做的还要多。”他说,“我觉得挺有意思的一件事是,他们的很多剧集都不会超过第二季或者第三季。这样他们就没有办法囤像《办公室》这样100多集的电视剧。”

尽管《老友记》这样的经典剧集正在从Netflix流失,但这些年来,它们对于Netflix而言是无价之宝。“影视巨头为了建立自己的流媒体平台,正在把这些经典剧目从平台上撤出,但Netflix仍然需要依赖这些经典剧目在本平台播放期间所收集的数据,为自己的未来项目开发计划提供指引,比如题材、出品方或明星等。”奥本大学的媒体研究助理教授埃莉诺·帕特森说,“比如说,想一想Netflix与亚当·桑德勒的合同,或者他们对青少年电视和电影的投资。这些都是他们通过研究用户观看桑德勒电影或者20世纪八九十年代的经典青少年喜剧等第三方节目的数据后得出的直接结论。”毕竟,我们都看到了桑德勒的最新电影《谋杀之谜》(Murder Mystery)在全球的表现。

Netflix可以考虑开发一个广告支持的版本

这个想法听起来可能不太入时,但开发一个由广告支持的版本对于Netflix而言可能是一个很棒的商业举措。“没有人喜欢广告,但是如果你想从1.5亿用户增加到10亿用户,你就必须找到一种方法,让人们能够在很长一段时间内免费试用你的服务。”帕特诺特说,“Spotify让每个人都能够不受限地使用他们的服务,吸引住了用户,同时因为他们的服务实在太棒了,最后有一半的人都选择了付费订阅。Hulu也在做同样的事情。他们在广告支持方面做得很好,但给人们足够的理由去订阅高清和不含广告的节目。”

还可以继续争取第三方内容授权,不分大小

即使经典情景喜剧和迪士尼旗下内容都高调退出,但仍然有许多电影和电视节目不属于任何现有或即将推出的流媒体公司旗下。科尔有一个建议:“如果我是Netflix,我会尽快锁定索尼和派拉蒙。”

它还可以与规模较小的制作公司签约来填补内容上可能出现的任何空白。“他们正在试图弄明白电影公司很久以前就已经明白了的道理,那就是,‘对于我们而言,做一些受众非常广的大项目相对来说更容易,我们可以和专业公司合作填补细分市场的空白,填上那些更加小众高端的内容。”帕特诺特说,“电影公司收购了这样那样的小规模制作公司,或者和它们合作,但即使在过去20年里,它们也一直在拆解这些公司。Netflix一直在建可以用来处理大、中、小型项目的基础设施。它有一个优势,它有能力让中小规模的项目赚钱,大型工作室现在都还没有这个能力。现在是时候开始转向这个方向了,要做好准备。”

最后,Netflix用户的忠诚度值得依赖

MoffettNathanson对Netflix用户的调查显示,即使费用上升,他们的忠诚度仍然很高:“26%的受访者表示,他们能够容忍1到2美元的涨价,还有28%的人觉得超过2美元也愿意。”(这个数字还没不包括14%使用他人付费账户的Netflix用户,这部分用户的存在是因为用户之间共享密码的问题还没有得到解决。)

科尔说,即使自己熟悉喜欢的服务或品牌出现了一些小的变化,但一些用户仍然坚持使用,这是出于“惯性”。如他所言,“仍然有200万人订阅美国在线(AOL)来接收电子邮件。”

整体而言,他说Netflix不会遇上问题,这点雷伯恩、帕特诺特和帕特森都同意,但要想有竞争力,它必须得比以前更聪明。“我的观点是,Netflix不会消失,但眼下还有其他几种流媒体服务,这会让它们更难实现现有增长。他们现在不再是派对的主人了。”(财富中文网)

译者:Agatha

With plenty of competitors set to launch, and shows like Friends and The Office leaving its service, it’s easy to think that Netflix is in trouble. And it is—to the extent that its status as the dominant player in this field is slipping, as seen in its sluggish growth and loss of almost 130,000 subscribers last quarter. But there are many reasons to believe the company will avoid a mass subscriber exodus as Disney+, HBO Max, and NBCUniversal and Apple’s streaming services all launch in the near future.

As the experts mostly agree, original programming will likely be the ultimate determining factor in which streaming platform reigns supreme, but many questions remain as to how Netflix can remain there.

“[The second-quarter] news has nothing to do with competition, since Apple, Disney, HBO Max, etc. still have not launched in the market,” says Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at research firm Frost and Sullivan. “Content is king, especially original series that consumers can binge. As Netflix ramps up original content releases for Q3 and Q4, subscriber growth should return. It’s a bad quarter for them, absolutely, but they are still far, far ahead of the other services in the market.”

So, that poor performance, which should be offset thanks to the July success of Stranger Things and a sluggish start to summer at the box office, shows that Netflix is in for a tougher road ahead, but isn't out of the game.

Here are some of the reasons why the loss of popular licensed shows and looming competition don’t spell doom and gloom for Netflix, and how it can improve its content and corporate behavior to keep growing:

Losing “Comfort-Food Content” Isn’t a Dealbreaker

Based on reports from Nielsen and other analyses, as well as Netflix’s own admission, The Office and Friends were among the service’s most popular programs. The exact data is still mysterious, though—in regards to The Office, Netflix only said, “In 2018, it was streamed for over 52 billion minutes, and in April 2019, it was viewed nearly twice as much as the next most-viewed program on [streaming video on demand].”

But that only tells the public how it fared in comparison to other shows, not the total share of streams. The popularity of Friends is also still a mystery, though as Jeffrey Cole, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future, points out, “The fact they’d pay $100 million for one year of Friends shows how much value they put on it.” A new poll of over 11,000 Netflix subscribers by research firm MoffettNathanson showed that out of the 20 most popular shows on the service, 15 were originals, with Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things leading the way. Of the four licensed shows on the list, The Office and Friends were at nine and 10, respectively, behind other Netflix originals and the catch-all category of “movies.”

“It’s popular but does it make you stay?” says Rayburn. “Popular doesn’t matter—you simply care whether or not that content is a driver to keep a subscriber or to lose a subscriber. I don’t know anybody who’s going, ‘I’ve got to sign up with HBO Max because they have Friends.’”

There’s Lots of Competition But Few Details About It

Of the many upcoming streaming services, only Disney’s has offered concrete details surrounding its launch. We know it will debut Nov. 12, will cost $6.99 per month, and feature the company’s backlog of movies, including its Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars catalog. NBCUniversal says its service will come with two options, a free ad-supported version for cable subscribers and a premium tier, price to be announced but rumored to be $10 to $14, for ad-free viewing and those without cable.

HBO Max will reportedly cost $16 to $17 a month, with HBO’s back catalog and many Warner Media shows including, as per its corporate parent AT&T’s announcement, Friends, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Pretty Little Liars. “The three biggest pieces of content that makes their service so revolutionary. You’re HBO and you’re leading with that?” says Rayburn.

Apple TV+, meanwhile, doesn’t have a set launch date, price, or any information on how people who don’t have Apple devices will be able to watch it. The only announcements so far are a handful of original shows and deals with the likes of Oprah, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and Jennifer Aniston.

While it appears Disney+ will be a hit, it also doesn’t seem positioned as a Netflix killer. “The only one who brings anything special to the party is Disney ‘cause they’re the only studio that ever had a brand,” says Cole. “The $6.99 is a brilliant number. I don’t think people make the decision, ‘Netflix or Disney.’”

Netflix Is Improving Its Original Content (But Still Has Work to Do)

Once all the services are up and running, the deciding factor of how people spend their money will come down to the quality, quantity, and consistency of original content. Netflix is obviously doing very well with programming like Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things, but it will need modify its approach to keep people from canceling and renewing their subscriptions between services when the most buzzed-about shows come out.

“Everybody’s competing now for the same eyeballs and the same dollars,” says Rayburn. “Consumers are not going to sign up for 10 services, so they’ll have to pick and choose what content they want, because these services are all creating what looks like really good original content. Hulu noticed people starting and stopping their live service all the time. Basketball season picks up and they take it for two months then stop for three. It’s very easy to switch, which is great for consumers. They’ll jump and jump and jump.”

Netflix has already started its transition from a “breadth and depth” service with tens of thousands of titles to a more selective, curated library, which presents both problems and opportunity.

Netflix had nothing but green fields when it was “whoever’s better at figuring out how to stream smoothly was going to grab the whole market,” says Stephan Paternot, the CEO of Slated, an online film-financing marketplace, pairing projects with investors and distributors. “‘Phase one,’ as I call it, was to grab as much streaming subscriber-ship as you can in the world. ‘Phase two’ is, ‘How do we make the best content, and now be cost-effective about it?’ Netflix is discovering that making a thousand shows so you can find 10 good ones is very capital inefficient. How are they all going to scale up their content to appeal to audiences of different languages, cultures, interests, on a global level?”

Cole agrees that Netflix will have to be better about its costs but sees a different solution than continuing to produce so many shows. “Netflix has to make less and better programming. HBO does more with $2.5 billion than Netflix does with $12 billion,” he says. “One thing I think is interesting is their phenomenon of not letting many series go beyond the second or third season. That’s kept them from stockpiling a hundred episodes of a show like The Office.”

Even though it’s losing shows like that, the years of having them are invaluable to Netflix. “As legacy television programs are pulled by conglomerates building their own streaming platforms, Netflix is going to rely on the viewing data they have collected while having these licenses to guide their programming development, as far as genre, producer or known talent,” says Eleanor Patterson, assistant professor of Media Studies at Auburn University. “Consider, for instance, the Netflix deal with Adam Sandler or their investment in teen television and films. These were direct results of their user data on licensed programming like Sandler films or classic teen comedies from the 1980s and 1990s.” After all, we all saw how well Sandler’s latest movie, Murder Mystery, performed globally.

Netflix Can Always Create an Ad-Supported Tier

It might not sound like a popular idea, but going with an ad-supported version might be a great business move for Netflix. “Nobody likes commercials, but if you want to go from 150 million subscribers to a billion, you’re going to have to find a way to give people a taste of your service for an extended period of time for free,” says Paternot. “Spotify is getting everyone hooked with unlimited usage, but the service is so damn good that 50% of people purchased the subscription. Hulu is accomplishing the same thing. They’re doing well with the ad-supported side, but there’s enough reasons to subscribe with higher definition and commercial-free.”

It Can Also Keep Licensing Content, Big and Small

Even with the high-profile departures of sitcoms and the Disney catalog, there is plenty of film and television out that’s not controlled by any current or upcoming service. Cole has one suggestion in mind: “If I were Netflix, I'd lock down Sony and Paramount as fast as possible.”

It can also make deals with smaller production companies to fill any content voids. “They’re figuring out what the studios long ago figured it out, which is, ‘It’s easier for us just to make a dozen really, really big features that travel really well and we’ll just work with specialty companies in the market to fill the more niche content, the more prestige stuff,” says Paternot. “The studios acquired and partnered with all these different smaller production companies, but then even over the last two decades, have been dismantling them. Netflix has been building up their infrastructure to handle big, medium, and small projects. It still has an advantage in its ability to monetize medium to small that the bigger studios don’t have yet. It’s time for them to start pivoting [to that] and batten down the hatches.”

Finally, Netflix Can Bank on Loyalty

The MoffettNathanson poll of Netflix users showed that they’re a loyal bunch, even if the costs were to rise: “26% of survey respondents reported they would tolerate a $1-2 increase while a further 28% would be willing to pay over $2 more.” (That number doesn’t account for the 14% of users who use a Netflix account paid for by someone else, which stems from the yet-unsolved issue of password sharing among users.)

Cole refers to people sticking with a service or brand they know and enjoy, despite minor changes, as “inertia.” As he points out, “There are still 2 million people who subscribe to AOL to get email.”

Overall, he says Netflix will be fine, a sentiment Rayburn, Paternot, and Patterson agree with, but it will have to work smarter than ever before to compete. “My view is not that they’re going to disappear, but they’re going to be one of several services now and that's going to make it harder to grow the way they have. They don’t own the party now.”

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