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有这几位女员工,Netflix不怕苹果和迪士尼

Michal Lev-Ram 2019年10月11日

苹果、迪士尼和其他公司对Netflix统治地位的挑战前所未有。本文将介绍这家科技巨头大手笔押注原创内容的团队。

插图:Francesco Francavilla

今年7月4日,Netflix推出了热门剧《怪奇物语》系列第三季。这部科幻剧以20世纪80年代初的印第安纳州小镇为背景,自2016年面世以来已经变成了一种文化现象。剧中介绍了一位擅长念力的小女孩、绝密的政府实验以及通往另一维度的入口。为了宣传第三季,跨国流媒体巨头Netflix与各方合作,从汉堡王(推出了名叫“颠倒”的大汉堡)到可口可乐(欢快地重新推出了曾经失败的80年代新款可口可乐,且限量发售),再到耐克(推出了复古风格的“Hawkins High”运动鞋和服装系列)。本来都是轰动大片才能享受的配置,现在《怪奇物语》做到了。

Netflix难免得意洋洋。7月8日,一向守口如瓶的Netflix宣布,第三季上映的头四天,至少有4100万个家庭已经观看了部分剧集,1800多万个家庭已经看完整季。(相比之下,报道称4月HBO推出备受期待《权力的游戏》最终季时有1740万人收看了预告片。)

这是个好消息。

9天后也就是7月17日,总部位于加利福尼亚州洛斯加托斯的Netflix公布了二季度财报。Netflix透露,8年来在美国首次出现用户流失,约12万美国观众放弃续订。美国以外地区的增长低于预期也影响了业绩。总体来看,本季度Netflix新增270万用户,远低于增长500万的目标。Netflix称,内容部门表现不佳是业绩疲软的原因之一。换句话说就是,在过去三个月里,Netflix推出的剧集当中像《怪奇物语》一样成功的剧集不够多。财报公布后,公司股价单日暴跌超过10%。

对于Netflix之类巨头来说,一个季度内容不够亮眼算不上什么危机。该公司有1.51亿用户,分布在190多个国家,已然成为全球娱乐品牌。去年其收入飙升35%,达到158亿美元,在《财富》美国500强里排名第197位。2006年以来,该公司销售额爆炸性增长,每年的增速至少为30%,成了华尔街的宠儿。过去十年,Netflix股价飙升了约4300%,同期科技股集中的纳斯达克指数涨幅为280%。

但7月的数据火热显示,Netflix偶尔推出热门剧并不够。对于基本上可以说发明了流媒体娱乐的Netflix来说,为了达到期望,必须打造多样化渠道,实现病毒式传播,而且要吸引全球观众。随着Netflix即将进入成立22年以来最大一场战役,这一点尤其重要。

为什么?因为流媒体大战终于到来。接下来的几个月里,好莱坞巨头迪士尼、NBC环球和AT&T的华纳媒体都要推出类似于Netflix的服务。因此,Netflix将失去长期依赖的大部分授权内容。据Wedbush的分析师迈克尔·帕切特估计,《老友记》(将转移至华纳媒体)和《办公室》(将转移至NBC环球)只是近期可能转移的优质内容的两个例子,仅这两部剧集就已占了Netflix上播放量的5%。该分析师表示,授权节目和电影转移不会立刻完成,但他也补充说:“目前还不清楚Netflix有没有足够数量和质量的内容维持现有订户群体的忠诚度。”为了缓解用户流失,Netflix采取了重大举措,9月中旬宣布与从索尼影视签订2021年开始为期五年的协议,得到了《宋飞正传》的独播权,目前该剧在迪士尼旗下的Hulu上播放。

另一个财大气粗的新竞争对手是苹果,11月1日苹果将推出 TV+ 流媒体服务。为了引起轰动,苹果斥巨资聘请一线明星詹妮弗·安妮斯顿和瑞茜·威瑟斯彭出演原创剧集《早间新闻》。iPhone制造商苹果在9月初表示,TV+收费仅为每月4.99美元,远低于其他顶级流媒体竞争对手。举例来说,美国Netflix用户每月要看节目和电影的话,每月费用从8.99美元到15.99美元不等。(在印度和马来西亚等海外市场,Netflix正尝试更低价格,可以观看移动端专享内容。)迪士尼+将于11月推出,内容来源包括漫威、卢卡斯影业和皮克斯,收费为每月6.99美元。

Netflix还面临着亚马逊和Hulu的强力竞争。亚马逊已经吸引超过1亿用户订购Prime会员服务,其中包括视频,出品的《了不起的麦瑟尔夫人》等原创节目点击量也不错。今年早些时候Hulu将基本服务定价从7.99美元下调至5.99美元,目前已经有2600多万付费用户。根据研究公司eMarketer的最新数据,Netflix在美国视频流媒体市场的渗透率为87%,亚马逊Prime和Hulu分别约为53%和41.5%。

On the fourth of July, Netflix released the much-hyped third season of its wildly successful series Stranger Things. Since it debuted in 2016, the show—a science fiction story set in small-town Indiana in the early 1980s, featuring a psychokinetic tween girl, top-secret government experiments, and a portal to another dimension—has become a cultural phenomenon. To promote season three, the global streaming giant partnered with everyone from Burger King (which debuted an “Upside Down” Whopper) to Coca-Cola (which gamely revived its failed ’80s New Coke for limited release) to Nike (which rolled out a retro-style “Hawkins High” line of sneakers and apparel). The stage was set for a blockbuster binge fest. And Stranger Things delivered.

Netflix couldn’t help but gloat a little. On July 8, the normally tight-lipped company announced that nearly 41 million households had streamed at least part of season three in its first four days of release, and more than 18 million had already devoured the entire season. (By way of comparison, back in April, HBO reported that 17.4 million people had watched the premiere episode of the hotly anticipated final season of Game of Thrones.)

That was the good news.

The bad news came nine days later, on July 17, when the Los ¬Gatos, Calif., company announced its second-quarter earnings. Netflix revealed that it had lost subscribers in the U.S. for the first time in eight years—with some 120,000 American viewers abandoning the service. Slower-than-expected growth outside the U.S. also hurt: Overall, Netflix added 2.7 million subscribers in the quarter, but that was well below its target of 5 million. According to Netflix, a weaker content slate was partly to blame for the tepid results. Translation: Not enough Stranger Things-type successes had appeared in Netflix’s lineup in the previous three months. The stock plunged more than 10% in a single day.

For a juggernaut like Netflix, one anemic quarter is hardly a crisis. With 151 million subscribers in more than 190 countries, the company is now a global entertainment brand. Last year its revenues soared 35% to $15.8 billion, placing it at No. 197 in the Fortune 500. And the company’s explosive growth—sales gains of at least 30% annually since 2006—has made it a Wall Street darling. Shares of Netflix have rocketed up some 4,300% over the past decade vs. 280% for the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

But as its wild ride in July illustrates, for Netflix, it’s no longer enough to celebrate the occasional smash hit. To meet the expectations it has created for itself, the company that essentially invented the business of streaming entertainment must create a diverse pipeline of viral hits with global appeal. That’s especially true because Netflix is about to enter into the biggest battle in its 22-year history.

Why? At long last, the streaming wars have arrived. Over the next several months, establishment Hollywood powers Disney, NBCUniversal, and AT&T’s WarnerMedia are all launching their own Netflix-like services. As a result, Netflix will lose a significant portion of the licensed content it has long relied on for much of its usage. Friends (which will move to WarnerMedia’s service) and The Office (which will go to NBCUniversal) are just two of the high-profile content departures expected in the near future, and they account for 5% of all viewing on Netflix, according to estimates from Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. The migration of licensed shows and films away from the platform won’t happen immediately, says the analyst, but he also adds that it is “unclear whether Netflix can replace them with quantity and quality sufficient to keep its current subscriber base loyal.” Netflix made one major move to mitigate the exodus in mid-September, when it announced a five-year deal, beginning in 2021, with Sony Pictures Television for the exclusive rights to Seinfeld, which currently runs on Disney-owned Hulu.

Another deep-pocketed new rival is Apple, which will debut its Apple TV+ streaming service on Nov. 1. To make a splash on arrival, Apple has shelled out big bucks to secure A-listers Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon as costars for its original series The Morning Show. The iPhone maker said in early September that the price for Apple TV+ would be just $4.99 per month, well below the cost of the rest of the top streaming rivals. Netflix subscribers in the U.S., for instance, pay anywhere from $8.99 to $15.99 per month to access its offerings of shows and movies. (In some foreign markets, like India and Malaysia, Netflix is experimenting with much lower price points that give access to mobile-only content.) Disney Plus, which launches in November with content from Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar, will cost $6.99 per month.

And Netflix already has formidable competition in the form of Amazon and Hulu. Amazon has more than 100 million subscribers to its Prime service, which includes video, and it has had some hits with its original programs, such as the The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And Hulu, which lowered its basic-level pricing from $7.99 to $5.99 earlier this year, now has more than 26 million paid subscribers. According to fresh numbers from research firm eMarketer, Netflix has 87% penetration of the video-streaming market in the U.S., compared with roughly 53% for Amazon Prime and 41.5% for Hulu.

《怪奇物语》第三季第三集的演员,(从左到右)菲恩·伍法德、凯莱布·麦克劳克林、诺亚·施纳普。图片来源:Courtesy of Netflix

因此,尽管Netflix仍然身居流媒体之王,但要捍卫王冠必须比以往任何时候更努力。竞争态势出现巨变。过去20年里Netflix之所以迅猛发展,从提供DVD邮购服务到娱乐巨头,主要是因为尖端技术推动。Netflix搭建了支持不间断流媒体服务的云基础设施,开发了数据驱动的个性化引擎,可以准确估测观众想看的内容,技术方面已经领先一步。虽然Netflix相信科技实力将继续带来竞争优势,但其高管也承认,竞争对手正在缩小技术差距。

为了在流媒体新时代取胜,Netflix必须像过去一样发挥原创内容的长处。

“虽然我们确实扎根于科技领域,但Netflix现在是娱乐公司。”长期担任Netflix首席内容官的特德·萨兰多斯表示。公司称,增长的新关键在于增加优质节目和电影,吸引越来越多全球观众不仅注册网站,而且坚持订阅。“我们每天面临的挑战就是制作能牢牢吸引观众的节目,对每位用户来说还不一样。”萨兰多斯说。

Netflix表示,多年来一直在为此刻做准备。近年来该公司庞大的支出就是例证,从热播监狱剧《女子监狱》到奥斯卡获奖影片《罗马》,还有介于之间的小众内容。2018年,Netflix投资约120亿美元制作700个新原创节目,覆盖了所有能想到的类型,包括剧本、无剧本、纪录片、脱口秀特辑,还有动画。分析人士预计,今年Netflix的内容预算将增至150亿美元。为了资助各节目,Netflix大举借债。目前其账面上有126亿美元的长期债务,高于2017年年底的65亿美元。

Netflix相信,新内容大量涌现会有所助益,将来也可以吸引用户。但公司的成功关键在于推出能引起观众共鸣的节目。虽然Netflix的算法可以根据用户看完一部电视剧所需时间,极为准确地预测出用户的忠诚度,但要预测某剧本能不能变成《怪异物语》一样的大热剧,科学并没有那么可靠。“有些事情不一定能精确地靠模型推算出来。”萨兰多斯说。

为了应对新挑战,Netflix组建了由资深内容开发人员的团队,跟硅谷会议室里典型的高管团队几乎没有什么相似之处。其中多数人过去几年才加入Netflix,都来自于传统的好莱坞圈子。团队融合了不同的民族、种族和性取向,也是Netflix希望与不同地域和类别的受众建立联系从而扩大用户群的战略。团队中的几位高级成员碰巧也是女性。Netflix加入流媒体战争之后,该团队就是冲锋队。

So while Netflix remains the streaming king, it will have to fight harder than ever to defend its crown. And the dynamics of the competition are shifting dramatically. Netflix’s meteoric rise over the past two decades, from DVD-by-mail service to entertainment powerhouse, has been fueled primarily by cutting-edge technology. From the cloud infrastructure that enabled its seamless streaming service to the data-driven personalization engines making educated guesses at what viewers wanted to watch, the company has been a step ahead. Even though Netflix believes its tech prowess will continue to give it a competitive advantage, its top executives concede that its rivals are narrowing the technology gap.

To win in the new era of streaming, Netflix must become as good at producing original content as it has always been at delivering it.

“While we certainly have our roots in tech, Netflix today is an entertainment company,” says Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s longtime chief content officer. The new key to growth, according to the company, is an expanding roster of must-see shows and movies that get an increasingly global audience to not only sign up for Netflix but also stay subscribed. “Our challenge every day is making a show you can’t live without, and that show is different for every person,” says Sarandos.

Netflix says it has been preparing for this moment for years. And the proof is the enormous spending spree on which the company has embarked in recent years to produce everything from the hit prison-drama series Orange Is the New Black to the Oscar-winning film Roma—and gobs of niche content in between. In 2018, the company invested some $12 billion to produce 700 new, original programs in every conceivable category—scripted, unscripted, documentaries, stand-up comedy specials, animation. And analysts expect Netflix’s content budget to rise to $15 billion this year. To help finance all that programming, Netflix has borrowed a lot of money: It currently holds $12.6 billion in long-term debt on its books, up from $6.5 billion at the end of 2017.

The gusher of new content, Netflix believes, will provide benefits and draw subscribers well into the future. But its success hinges on launching shows that resonate with viewers. While Netflix’s algorithms may be able to predict the loyalty of a subscriber with uncanny accuracy based on how long she takes to finish watching a series, predicting whether a script will become the next Stranger Things is less scientific. “There are some things you can’t necessarily model out with great precision,” says Sarandos.

To address this new challenge, Netflix has assembled a team of veteran content developers who bear little resemblance to the typical C-suite crew sitting around a Silicon Valley conference room. Most of them have joined Netflix just in the past few years and were poached from the traditional Hollywood ecosystem. They present a diverse range of ethnicities, races, and sexual orientations—an approach that reflects Netflix’s strategy of continuing to build its user base by connecting with audience segments across geographies and categories. Several of the senior members of the team also happen to be women. As Netflix enters the streaming wars, they’re the ones leading the charge.

****

不久前的一个星期二晚上,西好莱坞约200名粉丝排队进入一家Sprouts杂货店上方的女性专用共同工作空间,庆祝《美女摔角联盟》第三季开播,该剧是Netflix上很受欢迎的剧,内容是女性摔跤手的故事。空间内部看起来像是偏成年人版的少女卧室:舒适的浅绿色沙发、桃色椅子,高至房顶的书架上整齐摆放着色彩协调的书籍。与会者几乎全是女性,一边啜饮着免费的葡萄酒一边走来走去。该剧的主演(全是女性)和创作者(也都是女性)悉数出席放映式。签到时有人分发款桃红色腰包,颇有20世纪80年代怀旧感,也正是《美女摔角联盟》故事发生的时代。

“在这里举办活动再合适不过了。”观众就座后,Netflix负责原创内容的副总裁辛迪·霍兰德发表讲话称。她刚说完,灯光就暗了下来,大屏幕上开始播放新一季《美女摔角联盟》的第一集。

霍兰德不管是服装还是个性都相当朴实。她穿着标志性的深色夹克和裤子,不管职责变得多重要,自称性格内向的她并不追求成为聚光灯焦点。2002年霍兰德加入Netflix,当时该公司还以其标志性的红信封出名,而不是靠像《美女摔角联盟》之类的剧集。该公司在1997年推出DVD邮购业务,由现任首席执行官里德·黑斯廷斯和联合创始人、前首席执行官马克·兰道夫共同创办。当时,萨兰多斯和霍兰德的任务是为DVD发行寻找节目并获得授权,起初团队小而精干,主要来自于技术和娱乐圈。(如今,Netflix内容部门在全球约有400名员工。)

“我立刻发现她是一位非常讲逻辑的决策者。”萨兰多斯谈到第一份工作时说。“辛迪还有个超能力:能比我认识的任何人阅读和分解剧本结构更快也更准确。”

十年后,尽管Netflix的流媒体业务开始蓬勃发展,但其领导层预计业务模式最终将面临挑战:到某一时刻,该公司将无法继续扩大授权内容库,至少无法以合理成本扩展。到最后,传统的好莱坞玩家都希望保留自家的优质节目和电影。“很快,获得版权授权跟自制节目的成本会一样高。”霍兰德说。Netflix可不想等到被迫自制内容再行动。

发力原创内容的契机是2011年2月,当时英国政治惊险片《纸牌屋》的制作人找到Netflix,提出了有趣的提议:买下版权拍原创电视剧在美国播出。Netflix很快抓住了机会。而且赌赢了。在Netflix版的《纸牌屋》中,凯文·斯派西和罗宾·怀特饰演的华盛顿机会主义者大受欢迎。(斯派西被指控性骚扰之后离开了该剧。)

“他们预料到了。”好莱坞公司Creative Artists Agency的资深人才经纪人马特·德尔皮亚诺表示,(目前德尔皮亚诺是制片公司Cavalry Media的合伙人。)“他们料到这部剧的重要性后,就再没有犹豫过。”

On a recent Tuesday evening in West Hollywood, about 200 fans file into a women-only coworking space above a Sprouts grocery store to celebrate the third season of GLOW, a popular Netflix show about female wrestlers. The inside of the space looks like a slightly more adult version of a teenage girl’s dream bedroom: There are plush, pale-green sofas, peach-hued chairs, and wall-to-wall shelves neatly filled with color-coordinated books. The attendees, almost entirely women, mill about sipping complimentary wine. The show’s leading actors (all women) and its creators (also women) are on hand for the screening. Over by registration, someone is handing out hot-pink fanny packs, a throwback to the 1980s era in which GLOW, which stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, takes place.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to hold this event,” says Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president of original content, addressing the crowd as they take their seats. Shortly after she speaks, the lights dim, and the first episode of the new season of GLOW pops up on a large screen.

Holland is no-frills, in both ensemble and personality. Dressed in her signature dark jacket and pants, the self-described introvert doesn’t seek the spotlight, however visible her role has become. Holland joined Netflix in 2002, at a time when the company was still known for its signature red envelopes, not shows like GLOW. The DVD-by-mail business was launched in 1997, the brainchild of current CEO Reed Hastings and his cofounder, former CEO Marc Randolph. Back then, ¬Sarandos and Holland’s task was to find and license programs for DVD distribution, and they did it with a lean team of transplants from tech and entertainment circles. (Today, Netflix’s content department employs some 400 people worldwide.)

“What I saw in her right away was a very logical decision-maker,” Sarandos says of his first hire. “She also had a superpower: Cindy could read and break down the mechanics of a script better and faster than anyone I know.”

A decade later, even as Netflix’s streaming business began to boom, its leadership anticipated an eventual challenge to its model: At some point, the company wouldn’t be able to keep expanding its library of licensed content, at least not at a reasonable cost. Eventually, the traditional Hollywood players who had created all of those must-see programs and movies would want to keep them for themselves. “Pretty soon, you could see a world where it would cost us just as much to license a show as it would to make one for ourselves,” says Holland. Netflix didn’t want to wait until it had to create its own content.

The catalyst for jumping into original content came in February 2011, when the producers of House of Cards, a British-made political thriller, came to Netflix with an interesting proposition: buying the rights to make an original version of the popular series for an American audience. Netflix quickly bit on the opportunity. The bet paid off. Netflix’s House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as ruthless Washington opportunists, was a streaming sensation. (Spacey eventually left the show after allegations of past sexual misconduct.)

“They saw it coming,” says Matt DelPiano, a longtime talent agent with Hollywood firm Creative Artists Agency, who was involved with inking the deal for House of Cards. (DelPiano is ¬currently a partner with production company Cavalry Media.) “And once they saw what that show did for them, they never looked back.”

****

去年8月,Netflix宣布砍掉《先见之明》,随即面临非常激烈的反对。《先见之明》于2016年推出,主要讲述超自然的故事,故事中一位失踪的盲人妇女回到密歇根郊区的家中,视力莫名其妙地恢复。该剧的拍摄成本很高,观众却相对较少。电视网络砍掉这种剧很简单,但引发了该剧狂热粉丝们的愤怒。他们在时代广场张贴广告牌,组织快闪抗议行动,还发起了Change.org 网站呼吁保留该剧,收集了80000个签名。有些人在好莱坞和纽约的Netflix办公室外抗议。其中有一名铁杆粉丝是失业的电视编剧,名叫恩皮里尔·扬,她甚至绝食抗议,声称《先见之明》比食物还重要。

不过,Netflix最终还是取消了该剧。

这个例子显示出Netflix不断发展的运营模式两大特点:第一,吸引小众仍然很好,但也别太小众。第二,Netflix正在学习更类似于传统好莱坞电影公司的运作方式。

由于Netflix不依赖广告收入,而且可以轻易获得大量数据,所以能细分受众,为各种各样所谓口味群体打造节目。因此,该公司在艺术家和观众中声望颇高,成为晦涩且小卡司内容的天堂。“我们的重点并不是周二晚8点最适合的剧。”霍兰德说。

至于成功与否,要看观众人数与生产成本的比例。低成本的节目如果能吸引忠实的小众观众,可能相对价值很高;高成本的节目如果无法大范围吸引观众就不合算。Netflix当然希望收视率越高越好,也想让评论家吃惊然后收获一堆奖项。但实际情况是,每部像《怪奇物语》一样成功的剧集背后,可能有十几部无法吸引大量观众引起轰动、但能带来可观投资回报的剧。《先见之明》不属于这种情况。

Netflix一直是数据驱动的公司。公司文化并不是关怀型。在产品方面一向如此,包括工程师、设计师和幕后开发人员,如今在内容方面也是如此。作家、导演和演员之类的“雇佣人才”欣赏Netflix的自由还有行动速度。从一开始,Netflix就抢购下整个季的《纸牌屋》,而不是像行业常规操作一样让人先试写,震惊了全行业。一旦某节目进入开发阶段,通常就不用再满足“电视台笔记”,也就是电视台主管提供的大量反馈。

This past August, Netflix announced that it was canceling a program called The OA—and the tech giant was promptly confronted with some very vocal backlash. Launched in 2016, The OA is a supernatural drama about a missing blind woman who returns to her suburban Michigan family with her vision inexplicably restored. The series was expensive to shoot and its audience relatively tiny. For a broadcast network, cancellation would be a no-brainer. But the show’s ardent fans were incensed. They put up billboards and organized flash mobs in Times Square. They started a Change.org campaign to save the series, gathering 80,000 signatures. Some protested outside Netflix’s offices in Hollywood and New York. And one hard-core devotee, an unemployed TV writer named Emperial Young, went on a hunger strike, saying she needed The OA more than she needed food.

Netflix canceled the show anyway.

The episode illustrates two things about Netflix’s evolving operating model: First, niche appeal is still good—just not too niche. Second, Netflix is learning to operate a bit more like a traditional Hollywood studio.

Because Netflix isn’t dependent on advertising dollars and because it has so much data at its fingertips, it can micro-¬segment audiences to create programs for a wide variety of different so-called taste clusters. As a result, the company has built a reputation among artists and viewers as a haven for obscure, narrow-cast content. “We’re not so focused on what is the best thing to put on Tuesday at 8 o’clock,” says Holland.

Success is measured in viewership numbers proportional to the cost of production. A low-budget show that secures a loyal tranche of niche viewers may have high relative value; an expensive show that fails to catch on with a wider audience doesn’t add up. To be sure, Netflix wants as much viewership as possible. And it wants to wow critics and land awards. But for every Stranger Things, there are probably a dozen other programs that don’t garner large audiences or big headlines but still generate significant return on investment. But not The OA.

Netflix has always been a data-driven company. It’s not a hand-holding culture. That has always been true on the product side—the engineers, designers, and developers who work behind the scenes—and it’s true today on the content side. “Talent for hire”—like writers, directors, and actors—appreciate the freedom and the speed at which Netflix moves. From the very beginning, with House of Cards, the company shocked the industry by snapping up entire seasons rather than just commissioning a pilot—the long-standing process by which Hollywood develops programs. And once a show is in development, there are typically no “network notes,” the copious feedback provided by television executives, to cater to.

左起:辛迪·霍兰德和西村丽萨。图片来源:Jessica Chou for Fortune; Styling by Christopher Kim; Grooming by Su Han

但Netflix文化的某些方面并不太受欢迎。演艺人员抱怨说,公司高管不断轮转,导致很难留住业绩强的人。运作中的项目太多,很难脱颖而出,也很难拿到像样的预算。与大手笔消费的形象相反,Netflix在业内是出了名的节俭,至少日常经营中如此。“他们总在努力省钱,寻找最便宜的方式,即使长远来看并不好。非常有‘初创公司’的感觉。”一位正在为Netflix写剧本,不愿具名的电视编剧表示。

Netflix还有一种吝啬遭到业内许多人抨击,就是不愿分享数据。收视率数据提供商尼尔森对其坐拥的数据宝库简直垂涎三尺。然而该公司对帮平台创建内容的人们隐瞒信息。这是Netflix可能需要改掉的坏习惯,尤其是在竞争平台争夺人才的情况下。

“你认为他们不会告诉马丁·斯科塞斯电影有多少人看?”前人才经纪人德尔皮亚诺说。今年11月,传奇导演马丁·斯科塞斯即将上映的电影《爱尔兰人》将在Netflix上线,报道称该片预算高达1.5亿美元。

与斯科塞斯这样的大导演合作,不仅对Netflix具有营销价值,也有助于解决内容团队的工作重点:“如何不断推出最令人兴奋也最吸引人的故事,同时维持有创造力的环境,让电影人认为我们这是最适合追求人生梦想的地方?”Netflix的独立电影和纪录片部副总裁西村丽莎说。她认为,强调Netflix对艺术的信仰而不是其技术实力,才是吸引创作者的关键。

西村在2007年加入Netflix,是相对早期的雇员,她加入Netflix是为了建立公司的授权纪录片库。近几年来,她一直是公司向原创“纪录片剧集”转型的先锋,比如《制造杀人犯》,以及大卫·查普尔脱口秀之类的喜剧节目。

Netflix吸引导演和作家的策略根源是实用主义。竞争激烈的流媒体服务爆炸式增长,意味着作家和演员等人才需求旺盛,新内容军备竞赛中,吸引人才是关键。提供丰厚的报酬,提供合适的激励和机会都是必须,但推动人才发挥想象力也同样重要。

举例来说,两年前公司聘用了长期在梦工厂担任制作人的梅丽莎·科布,开始制作原创的儿童和家庭节目。目前科布在Netflix的洛杉矶中心制作20多部独立的动画,都处在不同的阶段。“我们努力的目标是寻找多样化的节目,而不是打造非常具体的品牌形象。”科布说。

在某些情况下,追求多样化意味着为充满激情的项目开绿灯。“我生日那天他们带我来这,然后问我,‘你梦寐以求但觉得没法拍的片子是什么?’”导演兼动画师豪尔赫·古铁雷斯说。“我说:‘想拍一版棕色人种的《指环王》。’”目前,古铁雷斯正在制作源自于中美洲神话的动画片《玛雅与三勇士》,主角是踏上拯救人类征程的战士公主。

对Netflix来说,如何在艺术和技术之间达到理想的平衡一直是个棘手的问题,尤其如今Netflix已经发展为强大的娱乐平台。一方面,公司希望真正成为好莱坞的一方势力。另一方面,公司仍将其技术基础和文化当成竞争优势,并希望继续保持。

“我这辈子都在娱乐业。”美国广播公司的前娱乐主管钱宁·邓基说,今年早些时候Netflix聘请了她。“我加入Netflix其实有些仓促,也没有准备好将我们制作的节目与他们的平台整合起来。”

能拉邓基加入乃至担任Netflix原创剧部门副总裁,堪称一步妙棋。邓基曾在迪士尼旗下的美国广播公司公司工作15年,还曾与珊达·瑞姆斯等大牌制作人合作,珊达·瑞姆斯操刀制作过《实习医生格蕾》和衍生剧《私人诊所》,目前也与Netflix合作。不过邓基的加入也凸显出Netflix从科技为主导转型为创意优先的过程中面临的痛苦。邓基在上班的第一天都听不懂行话。“有很多缩略词。”她笑着说。

Netflix和传统好莱坞玩家之间的区别还不仅仅是行话。总部位于硅谷的Netflix一向以灵活快速行动自豪。但如今要管理不同国家数百个不同的项目,其相对扁平化的组织风格应付起来就有些棘手。

所以这一次,Netflix从传统好莱坞吸取了电视台笔记经验,即有时候流程多一点可能反而有利。“我们现在研发做得多了。”邓基说,指的是电视台彻底决定之前评估和确定节目的方法。“这种方法给了我们更多自由,以防我们发现,‘哦,那个主意不错。结果却并未达到预期,那就不做。’”

But some aspects of Netflix’s culture haven’t been as well-received. Showrunners grumble that executive shuffles at the company make it tough to hold on to an internal champion. There are so many projects in the works that it’s hard to stand out—and to get a decent budget. Contrary to its free-spending image, Netflix has a reputation in the industry as a frugal boss, at least on a day-to-day basis. “They’re always trying to save money and looking at the cheapest way to do things, even when that isn’t best for the long term. It’s a very ‘startup-y’ place,” says one TV writer currently working on a Netflix series who did not want to be named.

There’s another kind of stinginess at the company that has come under fire by many in the industry—Netflix’s reluctance to share its data. The company has a treasure trove of numbers that Nielsen, the ratings provider, would kill for. And yet it has historically kept this information hidden from the very people it commissioned to create content for its platform. That is a habit the company will likely need to kick, especially as competing platforms vie for the same talent.

“You think they’re not gonna tell Martin Scorsese how many people watched his ¬movie?” says DelPiano, the former talent agent. The legendary director’s upcoming film, The Irishman, with a reported budget north of $150 million, launches on Netflix this November.

Working with a name-brand director like Scorsese not only has marketing value for Netflix but also helps address one of the content team’s central priorities: “How do we make sure that we are continuously producing the most exciting and compelling stories and also ensuring that as a creative environment, we are the place that filmmakers want to come to do the best work of their lives?” says Lisa Nishimura, VP of independent film and documentary features at Netflix. She contends that emphasizing Netflix’s belief in art—not its tech prowess—is key in wooing creators.

Nishimura joined Netflix in 2007, a relatively early hire who was brought on board to help build out the company’s library of licensed documentaries. In more recent years, she has spearheaded the company’s move to original “docuseries,” like Making a Murderer, and comedy programming, like Dave Chappelle’s stand-up specials.

Netflix’s strategy to court directors and writers is rooted in pragmatism. The explosion of competing streaming services means that writers, actors, and the like are in high demand—and in this new arms race for content, attracting talent is key. Paying them well and offering the right incentives and opportunities, is a must. But so is appealing to their sense of imagination.

Two years ago, for instance, the company hired Melissa Cobb, a longtime DreamWorks producer, to build out its slate of original kids and family programming. Cobb now has more than 20 separate animated series at some stage of production in Netflix’s Los Angeles hub. “What we’re doing is looking for a diverse range of shows versus trying to build a very specific brand identity,” says Cobb.

In some cases, that means green-lighting passion projects. “They brought me in here on my birthday and asked me, ‘What’s your dream thing that you don’t think can be made?’ ” says Jorge Gutierrez, a director and animator. “I said, ‘I want to make The Lord of the Rings with brown people.’ ” Gutierrez is now developing Maya and the Three, an animated series inspired by Mesoamerican mythology. The show’s protagonist is a warrior princess on a journey to save humanity.

Getting the right balance of art and technology has been tricky for Netflix, especially as it has evolved into an entertainment powerhouse. On the one hand, it wants to be seen as a bona fide Hollywood player. On the other hand, it still views its technological underpinnings—and culture—as a competitive advantage that it wants to hold on to.

“I’ve spent my life in the entertainment business,” says Channing Dungey, the former head of ABC Entertainment, whom Netflix hired earlier this year. “And I wasn’t quite prepared for Netflix and the integration of the shows we make with the platform on which they live.”

Landing Dungey, now VP of original series at Netflix, was a coup for the company—she had spent 15 years at Disney-owned ABC and worked with producers like Shonda Rhimes, the TV hitmaker behind Grey’s Anatomy and spin-off Private Practice who is now collaborating with Netflix. But Dungey’s initiation into the company also highlights some of the growing pains it is dealing with as it tries to transition from a tech-led to a creative-first company. The first day on the job, she couldn’t even understand the lingo. “There were a lot of acronyms,” she says, laughing.

The differences between Netflix and traditional Hollywood players are not restricted to jargon. The Silicon Valley–based ¬company has always prided itself on being nimble and moving fast. But its relatively flat organizational style has proved to be tricky as it now manages hundreds of disparate projects in different countries.

So, for once, Netflix is taking a network note from traditional Hollywood: Sometimes a bit more process can be beneficial. “We’re doing a little more development now,” says Dungey, referring to the method that TV networks use to evaluate and shape programs before fully committing. “It gives us a little bit more freedom in case we’re, like, ‘Oh, that was a great pitch. It didn’t quite turn out the way we wanted it to, so we’re not going to do that one.’”

****

即便有时差,萨尔玛·海耶克仍然表现出色。身兼演员、导演和制片人的海耶克从伦敦飞往墨西哥城,召开了一天的新闻发布会宣传新剧《女当家》。海耶克当初就在家乡墨西哥演电视剧角色起家,这次她并未出演,该剧主要介绍曾缔造龙舌兰酒帝国的家族复杂故事。不过该故事由海耶克的制作公司Ventanarosa开发。最初卖给了美国广播公司,进入开发阶段但最终没有拍成。随后她的制作公司回购了版权,最终带到了Netflix。

“他们喜欢这个概念。”海耶克明显很自豪。一说起《女当家》,她眼中就有星星闪烁。

海耶克穿着薄荷绿色西装,里面是深红色缎面上衣,衬得唇色格外艳丽。黑色头发自然分开,看起来不像刚下飞机。“这部剧完全在墨西哥制作,都用西班牙语。”海耶克说。“这部剧将在全球190多个国家上演。每个人都可能与权力、腐败、家庭纷争产生联系,可能要处理性或为人父母等问题。”

事实上,Netflix表示其战略并不是为全球受众“美国化”内容,而是努力开发适合特定地区的剧集,其中一些剧将吸引更广阔的市场,因为故事能触及普遍的主题。

“我们显然是全球平台,每个节目都会同一时间在所有地方推出。”Netflix的非英语原创节目负责人贝拉·巴贾利亚说。“当我们进入某个国家,关键就是讲故事,需要具备本国视角的创作者。”

三年前,曾长期在娱乐业担任高管的环球电视公司前总裁巴贾利亚加入了Netflix。她有印度血统,出生于伦敦,后来在赞比亚生活,9岁移居美国。她表示,Netflix的目标是以日益全球化的姿态吸引越来越多的全球观众。实现目标的关键是安排人们在世界各地的娱乐中心工作,而不仅仅是在好莱坞。目前,Netflix在伦敦、马德里和多伦多都有制作中心,在包括墨西哥在内的许多市场中都有内容团队。

Salma Hayek is resplendent, even when jetlagged. The ¬actress, director, and producer has flown to Mexico City from London for a day-long press junket promoting her new show Monarca. Hayek, who got her start as a telenovela character in her native Mexico, doesn’t act in the series, which centers on the complicated dynamics within a family atop a tequila empire. But her production company, s, developed it. Hayek originally sold the drama to ABC. It reached the development phase but ultimately didn’t get made. Her production company then bought back the rights, and she eventually took it to Netflix.

“They loved the concept,” says Hayek, visibly proud. The diminutive star gushes when speaking about Monarca.

Wearing a crimson satin top that matches her lipstick underneath a mint green suit, her dark hair perfectly parted, Hayek doesn’t look like she just stepped off a plane. “We did it completely in Mexico and completely in Spanish,” says Hayek. “This show will be seen in more than 190 countries around the world. Everyone can relate to power or corruption or family drama or dealing with sexuality or parenthood.”

Indeed, Netflix says its strategy isn’t to “Americanize” content for a global audience. Rather, it is trying to develop programming that appeals to particular regions, some of which will also appeal to a broader market because the stories tap into universal themes.

“We are obviously a global platform, and every show will launch everywhere, right at the same time,” says Bela Bajaria, head of Netflix’s non–English language original programming. “But when we go into a country, it really is about the storytelling—a creator with a vision from that country.”

Bajaria, the former head of Universal Television, came to Netflix three years ago. The longtime entertainment industry exec is of Indian descent, was born in London, lived in Zambia, and moved to the U.S. at age 9. She says Netflix’s goal is to appeal to an increasingly global audience with an increasingly global slate. And the key to doing that is to have people on the ground in entertainment hubs around the world—not just in Hollywood. Netflix now has production hubs in London, Madrid, and Toronto and content teams on the ground in numerous other markets, including Mexico.

左起:贝拉·巴贾利亚、钱宁·邓基、梅利莎·科布。图片来源:Jessica Chou for Fortune; Styling by Christopher Kim; Grooming by Su Han

在国外大量制造热门剧不仅是好事,也是必需。目前,Netflix的大部分用户群体位于美国以外,绝大多数增长也都来自于国外市场。该公司已经几乎渗透美国市场,但随着在全球市场日益拓展,仍然有增长空间。与此同时,拓展国际市场也为公司提供了沙盒,方便尝试满足美国观众需求时不可能的方式。

例子A:9月20日,Netflix首次推出了名叫《审讯室》的犯罪剧,共推出了四个不同的版本,为法国、西班牙、德国和英国量身定制。这部剧并不是简单地将一个剧本翻译成不同语言,而是使用同一个概念(三集,每集包括一个小时的警察审讯),但启用不同的本国演员和特定文化的场景。Netflix在所有市场都提供四个版本,意味着英国的观众也可以观看法国版,还有可能喜欢法国版多过英国版。

如果这种模式可行,对Netflix来说会很有吸引力。因为大多数美国电视网络在其他国家没有强大的分销渠道,只能将内容授权给其他地区的网络。但Netflix控制着通往190多个国家的渠道,而且对内容的掌控力越来越强。

“如果他们能创造内容并实现全球化,就能更好地实现规模经济。”看好Netflix前景的加拿大皇家银行资本市场的分析师马克·马哈尼表示。

当然,在全球拓展内容不仅要缩小文化差异,还要正确使用语言。但这并不像看起来那么简单。在影视剧圈,“subs and dubs”代表字幕和配音,都是帮全球观众理解对话的方法。Netflix也为用户提供了两种服务,平台上每部剧都能同步翻译成10种语言,还有20多种字幕可选。在很多美国以外的国家,人们更喜欢配音版。但配音是很难实现完美的艺术形式,而且极难规模化。

Netflix表示,公司内部有一个“内容运营”团队,正在寻找创新的方式应对字幕和配音的挑战。但无论最终想出什么方案,都不太可能出自于工程师。“技术层面没有简单的解决办法。”巴贾利亚说。就像Netflix现在做的很多事情一样,艺术大于科学。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年10月刊,是“最具影响力的商界女性”系列报道的一部分,标题为《曾在Netflix工作》。

 

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

Churning out hits abroad isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity. A majority of Netflix’s user base now lies outside the U.S., and the vast majority of its growth today comes from foreign markets. While the company has all-but-saturated the U.S. market, its increasingly global footprint gives it room to grow. It also presents a sandbox that allows it to experiment in ways that aren’t possible when catering just to U.S. viewers.

Exhibit A: On Sept. 20, Netflix debuted a crime drama called Criminal that it launched in four different versions, each tailored for a specific country—France, Spain, Germany, and the U.K. The show isn’t just the same script in different languages. It is actually the same concept (three episodes, each consisting of an hour-long police interrogation) but with different, local actors and culture-specific scenarios. All four versions are available in all Netflix markets. That means a viewer in the U.K. can click on the French version—and maybe even like it better than the British one.

The model, if it works, is an attractive one for Netflix. Because most U.S.-based television networks don’t have robust distribution channels in other countries, they have to license their content to existing networks in other regions. But Netflix controls a global pipeline to more than 190 countries—and, increasingly, to its own slate of programming.

“If they can create content and globalize it, that makes for much better scale economics,” says Mark Mahaney, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, who is bullish on Netflix’s prospects.

Of course, scaling content globally requires not just bridging cultural gaps but also getting the language right. And that isn’t always as straightforward as it might seem. In show biz, “subs and dubs” stands for subtitles and dubbing, the two methods by which dialogue is translated for global audiences. Netflix offers both for its users—every program it airs on its platform is simultaneously available dubbed into 10 languages and in more than 20 with subtitles. In much of the non-U.S. world, dubbing is preferred. But it is an art form that is hard to perfect—and very, very hard to scale.

Netflix says it has a “content operations” team looking for innovative ways to address the subs-and-dubs challenge. But whatever it come up with is unlikely to be a whizbang solution cooked up by engineers. “There’s no easy technology fix for it,” says Bajaria. Like much of what Netflix is doing these days, it’s more art than science.

A version of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of Fortune as part of the Most Powerful Women package with the headline “Once Upon a Time at Netflix.”

 

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