The Time Has Come for Netflix Live

Everything goes in cycles. The seasons, cultural trends, and basically every aspect of the internet rises and falls, with all that is old becoming new again (AskJeeves should be rebooted any day now). With that maxim in mind, I think it’s a perfect time for Netflix to keep ahead of its increasingly aggressive competition in the streaming space by launching a new product called Netflix Live.

Why Netflix Live?

You might think this sounds crazy given that Netflix is reaching increasing new heights with binge-watching at the center of its brand. To be clear, I’m not suggesting Netflix abandon the immense value in choice and binge viewing. Rather, they continue to innovate by adding to their offerings with a “Live” mode that offers up current Netflix offerings in a traditional “Channels” format, with content airing aligned to time blocks like over-the-air television has done since day one.

Not only would this “Live” approach enable Netflix members to avoid the paradox of choice (on average, it takes us seven minutes to find what to watch), a “Live” mode would also recall a nostalgic period in its members’ lives, when we flipped around channels and watched whatever happened to be on at a given time.

How would it work?

Netflix Live mode would mirror most of the existing Netflix library of content, though instead of being arranged into main categories for members to browse through, Live mode would be organized in the manner of traditional, over-the-air broadcast TV networks.

When you load Netflix by default, you’d still see the default method of browsing for content. However, by clicking a toggle, tab, or other element, you’d be taken into “Live” mode, where all content would be arranged by “Channels” in the traditional sense, with specific shows and movies airing at specific blocks of time as you’d find when browsing your cable TV channel guide.

An admittedly extremely crude mock-up of the Netflix homepage with a new tab for “Live Mode”. Members would click the tab to browse a list of channels much like the typical cable TV channel guide.

Think obvious channels aimed organized by genre like comedy, drama, teens and kids, but also imagine the possibilities of more unique channel options, wherein Netflix can itself — with its vast array of content — become almost a full replacement for your linear cable TV guide, though with even more modern channel offerings. A few examples:

  • “Saturday afternoon movies” (replicating the fading habit of getting sucked into whatever random “classic” movie TBS happens to be airing);
  • “Picked for Me”, a channel built on a specific members’ tastes, with a mix of both preferred shows as well as suggested new offerings;
  • “Network-style”, where channels feature either a literal line-up of shows from a specific broadcast network (tricky as each network launches its own platform), or “simulated networks”, where particular channels show a mix of comedy, drama, and kids programming based on time-of-day.

Value beyond novelty

Beyond the novelty value to viewers and tons of earned media that “Live” mode would likely generate, Netflix “Live” could also be a new avenue for Netflix to find audiences for its increasingly deep bench of shows by exposing them to viewers in a more passive way. For example, imagine if instead of offering you to watch the next episode of the office, Netflix auto-played another sitcom (from its in-house library, or that of another studio) immediately after?

I believe that baking in this sense of “discovery” into the overall experience of Netflix would reach both older / less sophisticated users migrating away from cable (and even antenna), while also appealing to veteran streaming viewers overwhelmed by the scope of available content and seeking a more refreshing combination of choice combined with curated delivery.

While I’m sure Netflix needs to continue promoting its most expensive content front-and-center, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to continue pushing top shows while also working to increase ratings across the long tail of its catalog, especially if renewal agreements with partners were staked to certain engagement metrics.

More than discovery: affinity through appointment viewing

With this approach, Netflix could also challenge linear networks and streaming competitors like HBO MAX (who dole out episodes weekly) by creating its own sense of appointment viewing. Want to watch all the new episodes of Stranger Things back-to-back? Use the Netflix you’re used to. But if you want to sit down on say Friday nights with friends or family and watch the show unfold week-over-week, Netflix “Live” would give you that option as well. While bingeing is likely tied to deeper engagement, I can also see a case where viewers having deeper, longer-lasting affinity when they can engage with a show over time and in less of a rush.

Live mode could also lay the groundwork for Netflix to explore moving into actual live content – either cannabalizing or supporting broadcast TV networks with another avenue to reach their viewers.

Peacock already has the jump on Netflix and other streamers

Speaking of which, in the time between when I started this post as a draft and finally published it, a broadcast network streaming service has already beaten Netflix to the punch with its own version of “Live” mode. The newly-launched Peacock streaming service, run by NBC, has a “Channels” tab on the service, where members can browse through offerings in a more linear, time-based approach. There are currently niche-specific channels such as news, all Law and Order, all Unsolved Mysteries, and others. While this early offering doesn’t deliver much value in terms of true variety or “chance viewing”, it certainly does put Peacock ahead of Netflix, Hulu, and other streamers still relying on their homepage to drive viewers to content in what I think will become an outdated “tip-of-the-iceberg” style approach to surfacing content from their increasingly huge content libraries.

A screenshot of the “Channels” mode in the new streaming service Peacock

Back to the Future

There are many smart reasons for Netflix — or any other streaming platform — to experiment with a “Live” viewing option. Whether it be to entice members with a novelty approach to viewing, reduce choice inertia, or expose its deep catalog of content, there are benefits to members of Netflix as it seeks to retain and grow its audience amidst increasing competition. For Netflix itself, the benefits are also many: from the ability to intentionally surface up targeted content, increase viewership of its long tail, or explore a reach into literal live TV viewing, the time is now for Netflix to continue its history of innovation with a fun and smart new foray … into the past.

Guest Post: Top 10 Cooks, an alternate take

Editor’s Note: My recent post listing the definitive, authoritative list of the Top 5 Cooks from Too Many Cooks spurred my friend Evan Habeeb to submit his own list of the Top 10 Cooks. Without further adieu, Evan’s list of the Top 10 cooks, including commentary:

10. James White

I want those reports on my desk by 5pm or you’re off the force!

10

9. Tara Ochs

She just can’t get anything right — even the cookies!!

9

 

 

8. Will Dove

The well-intentioned pervert.

8

 

7. John Crow

Perpetually confused but still trying.

7

 

6. Truman Orr as Taylor Cook

The best helper!

6

5. Matthew Kody Foster as “Coat”

Under-appreciated, valued cook.

5

 

4. Ken DeLozier

“You’re so out of touch, dad!”

4

 

3. Josh Lowder

#7 most wanted criminal, #1 in our hearts.

3

 

2. Jennifer Giles

Always on watch, defending us from B.R.o.t.H.

2

 

1. Smarf

He died to save us all.

1

 

 

Top 5 Cooks

If you haven’t seen Too Many Cooks, the recent NSFW “Informercial” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, find 10 minutes and watch. Yes, it’s long, but it’s the rare video that’s definitely worth it.

Then, come back here for the definitive list of the Top 5 cooks:

5. Will Dove

Will Dove

4. Ali Froid

Ali Froid

3. Ken DeLozier

Ken DeLozier

2. Katie Adkins

Katie Adkins

1. Smarf

Smarf

 

An innovation that DirecTV could probably never ship

I rarely ever channel surf live TV, though when I do I’m consistently amazed at the sheer length and frequency of commercial breaks. The seismic impact of DVRing aside, TV providers have limited if any tools beyond the decades-old “Previous Channel” button to help casual surfers avoid the mind-numbing crush of ads in those rare occasions when clicking around is the entertainment method of choice.

Browsing through the DirecTV channel guide while out of DVR’d shows on a quick lunch break the other day, I thought of a new idea that might infuriate advertisers and networks even as it makes casual browsing just slightly better for viewers.

DirecTV_Channel_guide

Imagine a small icon to the right of the channel or show name every time that particular channel was on a commercial break

Imagine your TV provider’s standard channel guide (a screenshot of my DirecTV guide is pictured). Now, imagine a new feature: An icon next to each channel or show name, to appear when that particular channel is currently in the midst of a commercial break. If we want to get negative, the icon could be a red button or perhaps a skull and crossbones; a more moderate icon could be as simple as a megaphone or “Ad break” — anything to provide an immediate and yet subtle visual clue so you can choose to skip past that channel and pick one where that 295th rerun of The Wedding Singer is actually airing.

If TV providers wanted to go a step further and give a nod to the advertisers they were helping viewers avoid, they could potentially even show a logo of the advertiser next to the show name in the guide, updating it live as the ads changed. An even more explicit and potentially mutually beneficial feature would be to show a countdown until the break is over. Sure, a commercial break countdown that still shows 4 minutes left might spur viewers to another option, though a nearly-finished countdown could also tilt the scales towards a few seconds of ad viewing. Since so much of my ad viewing comes via fast-forwarding the ads in DVR’d show, I’m assuming advertisers are already accounting for extremely brief views as part of their ad creation process.

Yes, this would be  more visual clutter in the already crowded channel guide user experience, and no, TV providers are not likely to subvert their partners so brazenly. All that said, “heads up” ad break tracking on channel guides could be a useful innovation to a problem that has plagued our lazy weeknights and sick days for generations.

 

We should celebrate the end of Kroll Show

One of my favorite TV shows is ending, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Nearing the third season premiere of Kroll Show next month, co-creator and star Nick Kroll announced that he’s ending the show entirely after this season airs. Not because ratings are low, or the network decided to move on, or any of the business-related reasons that shows are ended. Rather, Kroll is wrapping up simply because he “wanted to feel like we were going out with the best work that we’ve done.”

Given how rare this type of voluntary ending is, I have even more respect for Kroll than I already did. In an industry where the norm is to renew successful shows until long after their natural expiration dates — resulting in increasingly ridiculous plots and beloved cast/characters exiting, among other issues — it’s really refreshing to see a star (with creative control, no less) making sure a show goes out like this.

Kroll Show

Nick Kroll and Jon Daly as Wendy and Ashley, two wealthy jerks who get into adventures

Of course it’s natural to want something great to continue. That said, we often stick with great shows to the point where they’re no longer recognizable as what we loved in the first place. The results are comedies like The Office continuing on without its star, funniest character and emotional heart; otherwise superb dramas like Downton Abbey resorting to inexplicable deaths, and previously respected shows like ER descending into soap opera-like insanity to keep viewers tuned in.

The worst part isn’t even what we’re watching — it’s what we’re missing. When previously great shows continue on well past their prime, their producers and stars are spending time and energy investing in a stale product when they could instead be working on new and different projects. A new project isn’t guaranteed to be a winner, though I’ll always bet on a great performer to come back again with something new and great, when given the chance.

After Kroll Show wraps, I’ll miss Liz and Liz, Ceasar (maybe not), Bobby Bottleservice, Wendy and Ashley, the Wheels crew, and of course Gil and George most of all. That said, loving nearly every minute of the show so far only makes me more excited to see where Kroll and the cast and crew of the Show will end up next.

 

NBC to enhance its online video offerings

Good news for the continuing un-harnesing of network television: NBC has announced it will both expand its online video platform, and in a big finally! move, it will make its video player embeddable.

This move is a big step for a major network…it turns the tide from complaining against services like YouTube, and begins challenging them head-on.