Netflix hizo 9 grandes cambios y la mayoría de los suscriptores ahora no tienen idea

Esta es una historia sobre Netflix, la historia y 9 grandes cambios que la mayoría de los suscriptores no tienen idea de que fueron.

Se trata de construir un gran negocio que genere dinero, solo para darse cuenta de que el futuro es tormentoso. Se trata de construir una organización que estudie datos, asuma riesgos e incluso arruine su modelo de negocio a favor del éxito a largo plazo.

Y se trata de hacerlo una y otra vez.

La historia nos llega principalmente de Joel Mier, exdirector de marketing de Netflix (uno de los primeros 100 empleados) que ahora enseña en la Universidad de Richmond.

En un artículo reciente en Revisión de AMS, Mier y Ajay K. Kohli, profesores del Instituto de Tecnología de Georgia, compartieron algunos de los pivotes masivos pero casi olvidados de Netflix y examinaron cómo construir una cultura que impulse el crecimiento a largo plazo sobre las ganancias a corto plazo.

Aquí están los nueve grandes cambios que describieron, en el artículo y en mi entrevista en video con Mier (incluido a continuación), y cómo la mayoría de ellos han renunciado a cosas que funcionaron a favor de cosas que podrían funcionar mejor.

El paso a los alquileres

Netflix comenzó en 1997 como un servicio de venta y alquiler de DVD para el negocio de pedidos por correo, y casi todos los DVD disponibles en ese momento (aproximadamente 925) estaban disponibles en su catálogo. La introducción fue un éxito: del 90 al 95 por ciento de la facturación provino de las ventas en lugar de los alquileres.

¿El problema en el horizonte? A medida que aumentaran las ventas de DVD y reproductores de DVD, Netflix, del tamaño de una startup, difícilmente podría competir con empresas mucho más grandes como Wal-Mart o Best Buy.

Como “uno de los primeros de muchos, muchos pasos audaces”, me dijo Mier en una entrevista, Netflix cambió casi “de la noche a la mañana” de una empresa que vendía DVD a una que solo alquilado ellos, ya que es menos probable que los minoristas prueben este negocio.

El paso a las suscripciones

Ese gran giro ahora parece sencillo, pero entre septiembre de 1999 y febrero de 2000, Netflix lanzó una prueba beta para intentar cambiar de un modelo de alquiler por DVD, similar a las tiendas tradicionales de alquiler de videos, a un modelo de suscripción mensual.

“Pasamos de cero a más de 10,000 suscriptores”, dijo Mier, quien estuvo en la compañía desde 1998 hasta 2006, durante la prueba beta. Esto le dio a Netflix la confianza para cambiar a un modelo de suscripción del 100 por ciento desde principios de 2000.

“Piense en lo emocionante que fue”, dijo. “No había 8 millones de suscriptores cuando entré en el 2006”.

El cambio a ‘ilimitado’

El modelo de suscripción original de Netflix era por un número limitado de DVD al mes; Netflix optimizó la cantidad permitida. Sin embargo, finalmente, a finales de 2000, adoptaron la idea de alquileres ilimitados.

Aquí existía un riesgo porque predecir el comportamiento del cliente ahora sería una gran parte del modelo, pero se basa en datos. Y tenía un beneficio adicional.

“Piense en un gimnasio”, sugirió Mier. “¿Cuántos de nosotros nos hemos unido, comprometido una semana y [then] dijo, ‘¿qué diablos con eso?’ Lo mismo aquí. Netflix ha tenido un porcentaje de personas que simplemente pagan y no usan el servicio desde el primer día hasta hoy “.

El paso al contenido episódico en DVD

Este puede ser el giro más pequeño, ya que no cambió por completo otro modelo de negocio, pero Mier habla de ello cuando Netflix comenzó a ofrecer DVD con múltiples episodios de TV, algo que es mucho menos probable que las personas alquilen individualmente en una tienda de alquiler de videos.

Es el “origen de los ‘atracones’, como él dijo,” tomar prestados programas de televisión de los años 70, 80 y 90 que amamos y atravesar una temporada completa en un día y devolverlos “.

El paso al streaming (parte 1)

Para 2007, Netflix había alcanzado un hito importante: enviar el DVD número mil millones, y también comenzó a recurrir a su mayor cambio hasta la fecha: transmisión de video en lugar de alquilar DVD.

Esto parece inevitable en retrospectiva, pero realmente significó cambiar el modelo de negocio original y la experiencia del cliente al revés. Al principio, la transmisión solo era posible en PC e incluía una selección muy limitada de películas.

El paso al streaming (parte 2)

Mier considera la expansión de la transmisión (a todas las computadoras, televisores, teléfonos celulares, etc.) como una decisión independiente fechada alrededor de julio de 2011. Por supuesto, eso significó sacudir por completo el negocio anterior que había llevado a la empr esa allí.

“El enfoque futuro estaba claramente en la transmisión de contenido. Ya no es el motor de crecimiento de Netflix, pero la división de DVD se enfrentó a objetivos completamente diferentes: continuar sirviendo a sus clientes existentes extremadamente bien, reducir los costos operativos y no atrae nuevos suscriptores. “

Hice hincapié en las últimas cinco palabras. Imagínese caminar por la cuerda floja de la construcción de un nuevo negocio, apoyando uno antiguo, pero también trabajando para asegurarse de no dejar que el anterior crezca accidentalmente.

Cambiando a DVD.com

Esto está relacionado con la transmisión avanzada, pero es interesante notar que cuando Netflix dividió su negocio de alquiler y transmisión de DVD en dos, finalmente mantuvo el nombre original de Netflix para su nuevo negocio, agregando DVD.com, para manejar el negocio original de alquiler de DVD.

Netflix ya no informa cuántos suscriptores de DVD.com hay, pero una estimación se basa en el número actual poco menos de 2 millones de suscriptores (en comparación con alrededor de 209 millones de suscriptores de transmisión en todo el mundo).

Aún así, ¿se imagina cuántas empresas matarían por una base de suscriptores de pago mensual de 2 millones de personas?

El cambio en el contenido original

Los suscriptores de Netflix de hoy pueden pensar primero en algunos de los mayores éxitos de producción propia de la red: Cosas extrañas, Rey Tigre, Bridgerton. (Todo comenzó en 2013, realmente, con Castillo de naipes.)

Sin embargo, algunos de los mayores atractivos anteriores para los suscriptores de Netflix han sido cosas como reposiciones de amigos y La oficina. Convertirse tanto en una productora como en un distribuidor corría el riesgo de que los estudios de los que dependía Netflix ahora vieran a Netflix como una amenaza en lugar de un afiliado.

Fue un riesgo. De hecho, Netflix finalmente perdió acuerdos para llevar muchas de sus grandes atracciones repetidas.

El cambio a la producción internacional

El último punto de apoyo que Mier discutió tiene que ver con Netflix, que está agregando contenido internacional para audiencias locales.

El riesgo aquí tiene que ver principalmente con el costo de oportunidad: invertir en un programa producido localmente que podría no tener una audiencia fuera de un determinado país, o comprar los derechos de un gran éxito de taquilla de Hollywood que atraería suscriptores en todo el mundo.

(Por supuesto que hubo algunas victorias aquí: contenido producido internacionalmente como lupinoque también fue muy popular en los EE. UU.)

¿Este riesgo se amortizará a largo plazo? Eso está por verse, pero vale la pena señalar que todo el crecimiento neto de suscriptores de Netflix en el segundo trimestre de 2021 provino del extranjero. Netflix en realidad perdió clientes en los EE. UU.

El futuro y las lecciones para su empresa

Desde el artículo de Mier, Netflix tenía planes para un nuevo cambio: una importante incursión en los videojuegos. No estoy haciendo ninguna declaración sobre qué tan bien puede hacer esto, si puede revertir las pérdidas de suscripción en los EE. UU. O cómo le irá frente a otros clientes.

Pero si está dirigiendo un negocio que está a punto de cambiar y quiere saber cómo lo hizo una gran empresa hoy en día, podría hacerlo mucho peor que estudiar lo que sucedió en Netflix.

Aquí está el enlace al artículo Mier y Kohli escribieron nuestra discusión junto con el video.

Las opiniones expresadas aquí por los columnistas de Heaven32 son propias, no de Heaven32.

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It's about building a great business that makes money--only to realize that the future is stormy. It's about growing an organization that studies data, takes risks, and even blows up its business model in favor of longer-term success.

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And, it's about doing it over and over and over again.

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The story comes to us largely from Joel Mier, an early marketing director at Netflix (one of its first 100 or so employees), who now teaches at the University of Richmond.

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In a recent article in AMS Review, Mier and Ajay K. Kohli, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, recounted some of Netflix's massive but almost-forgotten pivots, and examined how to build the kind of culture that encourages long-term growth over short-term profits.

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Here are the nine big changes they described--in the article and in my video interview with Mier (embedded below)--along with how most of them involved abandoning things that worked, in favor of things that might work better.

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The change to rentals

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Netflix launched in 1997 as a mail-order DVD sales and rental service, with almost every DVD available at the time (about 925) in its catalog. The launch was a success, with between 90 and 95 percent of revenue due to sales, as opposed to rentals. 

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The problem on the horizon? As sales of DVDs and DVD players grew, startup-sized Netflix would hardly be able to compete with much bigger companies like Wal-Mart or Best Buy. 

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So, as "one of the first of many, many bold moves," Mier told me in an interview, Netflix  switched almost "overnight" from a company that sold DVDs to a company that only rented them, since retailers would be less likely to try that business.

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The change to subscriptions

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This big pivot seems like a no-brainer now, but between September 1999 and February 2000, Netflix launched a beta test to try going from a rent-by-the-DVD model, similar to traditional video rental stores, to a monthly subscription model.

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"We went from zero to more than 10,000 subscribers," during the beta test, said Mier, who was at the company from 1998 to 2006. That gave Netflix the confidence to go to a 100-percent subscription model starting in early 2000. 

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"Just think about how exciting that was," he said. "No subscribers at all to 8 million when I leHeaven32 in '06."

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The change to 'unlimited'

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The original Netflix subscription model was for a limited number of DVDs per month; Netflix tweaked how many were allowed. Eventually however, later in 2000, they adopted the idea of unlimited rentals.

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There was risk involved here, given that predicting customer behavior would now be a big part of the model, but it was informed by data. And, it had an added benefit.

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"Think about a health club," Mier suggested. "How many of us have joined, committed a week, and [then] said, 'the hell with that?' Same thing here. Netflix has had a percentage of people, from Day 1 to now, that simply pay, and don't use the service."

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The change to episodic content on DVDs

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This might be the smallest pivot, as it didn't quite upend another business model, but Mier talks here about when Netflix began offering DVDs with multiple TV episodes-;something people were much less likely to rent one-off from a video store.

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It's the "origin of 'binge watching,' as he put it, "renting TV shows from the 70s, 80s, 90s that we love, and banging through a whole season in a day and returning it."

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The change to streaming (part 1)

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By 2007, Netflix reached a big milestone: delivering its 1 billionth DVD -- and also starting to move toward its biggest change to date: streaming video, instead of renting DVDs. 

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This seems inevitable in retrospect, but it really meant upending the original business model and customer experience. At first, streaming was only on PCs, and included a very limited selection of movies.

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The change to streaming (part 2)

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Mier considers the expansion of streaming (to all computers, TVs, mobile phones, etc.) to be a separate decision, dating to about July 2011. Of course, this meant completely upending the former business that had gotten the company to where it was.

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"The future focus was decidedly on streaming content. No longer the driver of growth for Netflix, the DVD business line found itself with very different goals: continue to serve the current customers extraordinarily well, reduce operating costs, and do not attract new subscribers."

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I added the emphasis on the last five words. Imagine walking the tightrope like this of building a new business, supporting an old one, but also working to ensure you didn't accidentally grow the old one.

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The change to DVD.com

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This is related to expanded streaming, but it's interesting to note that when Netflix split its DVD rental business and streaming businesses into two, it ultimately kept the original Netflix name for its new business, and added DVD.com to handle the original DVD rental business.

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Netflix no longer reports how many DVD.com subscribers there are, but one estimate puts the current number at a little under 2 million subscribers (compared to about 209 million streaming subscribers worldwide).

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Still, can you imagine how many businesses would kill for a paid monthly subscriber base of 2 million people?

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The change to original content

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Today's Netflix subscribers likely think first of some of the network's biggest self-produced hits: Stranger Things, Tiger King, Bridgerton. (It all started in 2013, really, with House of Cards.)

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However, some of the biggest earlier draws for Netflix subscribers were things like reruns of Friends and The Office. Becoming a production company as well as a distributor meant risking that studios Netflix depended on would now see Netflix as more of a threat than a partner.

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It was a risk. Sure enough, Netflix eventually lost the deals to carry many of its big rerun attractions.

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The change to international production

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The final pivot that Mier discussed has to do with Netflix's addition of international content for local audiences, to the point that Netflix has been the producer and distributor of the leading in-country content in places like India, Korea, Turkey, and the UK.

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The risk here largely has to do with opportunity cost: putting investment toward a locally produced show that might not have an audience outside a specific country, versus buying the rights to a major Hollywood blockbuster that would attract subscribers worldwide.

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(Of course there have been some wins here: internationally produced content like Lupin, which was wildly popular in the U.S. as well.)

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Will this gamble pay off long-term? That remains to be seen, but it's worth noting that all of Netflix's net subscriber growth during the second quarter of 2021 came from overseas; Netflix actually lost customers in the United States.

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The future and the lessons for your business

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Even since Mier's article came out, Netflix announced plans to add a new change: a push hard into video games. I make no pronouncements about how well it can pull this off, whether it can reverse subscription losses in the U.S., or how it will fare against other customers.

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But if you're running a business that's facing change, and you want to learn from how a now-giant company has managed it in the past, you could do a lot worse than to study what happened at Netflix.

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Here's the link to the article Mier and Kohli wrote, along with the video of our discussion.

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