Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is candid about his streaming video company’s strategy and its place in the future of television. A year ago, he laid it all out in a lengthy manifesto touching on Netflix’s competitors, plans for original shows, and relationship with the rest of the internet.
Hastings has updated his ”Long-Term View” several times since it was first published, and the changes—some major, others subtle, and a few of them matters of style—reflect a rapidly changing industry. To get a sense of the company’s evolving views, we’ve compared the first version of the document from April 2013 to the most recent update from last week. The resulting track-changes view is below: deletions crossed out and additions in bold.
In a year, Hastings has developed more conviction about the shift from linear to internet TV, sharpened his view of the competition, broadened his global ambitions, and taken a stand for net neutrality. The edits also show Hastings to be an exacting guardian of Netflix’s strategy. Here they are:
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“Look at the bigger picture” —Francis Underwood, House of Cards. Over the coming decades and across the world,
will is replac eing linear TV.
will are replac eing channels,
will are disappearing,
will are proliferat eing.
As Internet TV grows from millions to billions,
, HBO, and ESPN areis leading the way around the world.
People love TV content
, and we still watch over a billion hours a day of linear TV.
But people don’t love the linear TV experience where, channels
 present programs at particular times on non-portable screens with complicated remote controls. Consumers click have to navigate through a grid to choose something to watch., or use DVRs and VOD, which add an on-demand layer at the cost of storage and increased complexity. Finding good things to watch isn’t easy or enjoyable. While hugely popular, the linear TV channel model is ripe for replacement. In addition to Netflix, most of tThe world’s leading linear TV networks, such as HBO, ESPN and BBC, are moving into Internet TV. The WatchESPN app runs on many Internet platforms and is specifically designed to showcase sports, both real-time and catch up. ESPN will keep improving their its app to try to stay ahead of MLB .tv, which is offers another terrific Internet TV sports app. The HBO GO app HBO’s app makes HBO’s its films and series much more accessible than on HBO’s linear channel. The BBC iPlayer app in the UK provides a rich and popular on-demand interface for a wide range of BBC programming. The other major linear networks are not far behind.
Internet TV is better than linear TV in ways consumers care about. While Internet TV is only a
very small percentage of video viewing today, we think it will grow every year to replace linear TV because:
1. The Internet
will is getting faster, more reliable and more available;
2. Smart TV sales
will are increas eing and eventually every TV will have Wi– fFi and apps;
3. Smart TV adapters
(Roku, AppleTV, etc.) will are getting less expensive and better and cheaper;
4. Tablet and smartphone viewing
will is increas eing; 5. Tablets and smartphones will be used as touch interfaces for Internet TV; 6. 5.Internet TV apps will rapidly improve through competition and get frequent updates; 7. 6. Streaming is the leading source for 4k Ultra-HD video will happen long before linear TV supports 4k video; 8. Internet video advertising will be personalized and relevant; 9. 7. TV Everywhere will provides an smooth economic transition for existing networks; and 10. 8. New entrants like Netflix are innovating rapidly and driving improvements.
Eventually, as linear TV is viewed less, the spectrum it now uses on cable,
and fiber, and over-the-air will be reallocated to expand ing Internet data transmission. Satellite TV subscribers will be fewer , and mostly be in places where high-speed Internet (cable or fiber) is not available more rural. The importance value of high-speed Internet will increase.
This transformation is occurring at different speeds in different nations. In the UK, for example, the BBC is already starting to program
more for its iPlayer app than for as well as its linear channels, given highlighting the large and growing view ingership on the iPlayer. In most countries, the conversion to 4k video is being led by Internet video because Internet services can efficiently serve just the homes with 4k televisions, while linear would have to convert entire markets channel by channel.
For most existing networks, this economic transition to Internet TV will occur through TV Everywhere. If a consumer continues to subscribe to linear TV from a multi-channel video program distributor (MVPD), they will get a password to use the Internet apps for the networks to which they subscribe
to on linear TV. The more networks successfully keep their prime-time programming behind this authentication wall, the less “cord cutting” will occur. The same consumer who today finds it worthwhile to pay for a linear TV package will likely pay for a “linear plus apps” package.
Existing linear networks
, such as ESPN and HBO, that offer amazing compelling apps will get more viewing than in the past, and be more valuable. Existing networks Those that fail to develop first-class apps will lose viewing and revenue.
In addition to
the specific linear networks building apps, some large MVPDs will do offer their own multi-channel app for viewing all of the networks they carry. Examples are Xfinity, Sky Go, and Horizon. These will win viewing also, by offering a great Internet on-demand experience on multiple screens. So far, the individual network apps (HBO GO, etc) are ahead of the MVPD apps because consumers relate to the network brands, and the apps are tailored to the specific type of content type (sports, reality, news, entertainment, etc.). The competition for Internet TV viewing, however, is just beginning. Twenty years ago, the mobile phone was quite large, expensive, limited to voice communication, suffered static and was trivial to eavesdrop on. It was hard then to imagine that by now, there would be 6 billion active mobile phones in the world, central to so many of our lives. We see a parallel in the rise and intertwined improvement of Internet TV apps, broadband, and devices over the next 20 years.
In addition to creating opportunity for linear networks, the emergence of Internet TV
also enables new apps like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, MLB.tv, and iTunes to build large-scale direct-to-consumer services that are independent of the traditional existing MVPD bundle. Netflix competes for entertainment time with traditional networks, but the scope of such time is quite large. Consumer time devoted to web browsing and video games, for instance, has expanded hugely over the last two decades without a corresponding diminution of TV viewing. Another example is that when AMC produces great shows, it does not noticeably shrink the audience for HBO. As our service has become very popular, there has been no discernible decline in domestic MVPD viewing, according to Nielsen. Simplicity is at our core. We are commercial-free unlimited-viewing subscription TV. We don’t have pay-per-view and we don’t have advertisements. Those are fine business models that other brands do well. We choose to be the best at our model, and to have our brand stand for commercial-free, unlimited viewing, low flat monthly fee.
Netflix is an increasingly global Internet TV network offering movies and TV shows commercial-free, with unlimited viewing on any Internet-connected screen for an affordable no-commitment monthly fee.
We don’t and can’t compete on breadth of entertainment with Comcast, Sky, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, or Google. For us to be hugely successful we have to be a focused passion brand. Starbucks, not 7-Eleven. Southwest, not United. HBO, not Dish.
We don’t do pay-per-view or ad-supported content. Those are fine business models that other firms do well. We are about flat fee unlimited viewing commercial-free.
We are not a generic “video” company that streams all types of video such as news, user-generated, sports, porn, music video, or reality. We are a movie
s and TV shows series network.
counter-positioned against a relief from the hassles, complexity , and frustration that embod iesy most MVPD relationships with their customers. We strive to be extremely straightforward and simple. There is no better embodiment example of this than our no-hassle online cancellation. Members can leave when they want and come back when they want.
We are about the freedom of on-demand and the fun of indulgent viewing. We are about the flexibility of any screen
anywhere any time. We are about fantastic content that is increasingly only available on Netflix.
We‘ll spend in 2014 over $
450500M per year on global in marketing to attract people around the world to try Netflix, and to reinforce with our members why Netflix is worthy. Our extensive exclusive content is key, as is the ability for members to have control over their viewing experience. Our North Star is We strive to win more of our members’ “moments of truth”. Those decision moments points are, say, on Thursday at 7:15 pm or Monday 2:40 am when our a member wants to relax, enjoy a shared experience with friends and family, or is just bored. They could play a video game, surf the web, read a magazine, channel surf their MVPD/DVR system, buy a pay-per-view movie, put on a DVD, turn on Hulu or Amazon Prime, or they could tap on launch Netflix. We want our members to choose Netflix in these moments of truth.
We win those moments of truth when members expect
, based on their prior experience with us, that Netflix will to be more pleasurable, compared to all those other options based on their prior experiences. The pleasure comes from our simple experience for easy choosing, total control over when to startplay/pause/resume the a video, and from content that suits their taste and their mood of everyone in the household. When we deliver enjoyment, members watch more Netflix, continue their membership, and evangelize Netflix to their friends. We are currently spending about We’ll invest in 2014 over $ 350400M per year on a wide range of efforts on technology development to continue to improve our service and our app , and we are constantly getting better on the very broad range of platforms we support. One area is our We put a lot of that emphasis on some core services competencies: our streaming delivery, sign-up, billing and customer service , across more than 1000 devices being used in more than 40 countries. Here we strive for operational excellence to avoid any problems. Members want Netflix to just work — flawlessly. On this front, we’re well ahead, but we have plenty of room to improve. We continue to invest heavily to ensure that our service is always available, our streaming has a minimum of never rebuffer ings, and has great our audio-video quality is pristine.
Another area of focus is personalized recommendations and merchandising, which drives what content we feature on a
given member’s initial screen. Google search is an example of a ranking system, where results are automatically computed to show Google’s estimate of the most relevant answer to the query. For Netflix, the user’s home page member’s opening screen is the personalized ranking of what we think will be most relevant content for that specific user at any given time member selected from our diverse catalog. By analyzing terabytes of data from every recent click, view, re- repeat view, early abandon, page views and other data, we are able to generate a personalized homepage filled display with the content most likely to please. Our aim is to keep inventing and tuning algorithms to generate higher satisfaction, viewing, and retention , for whatever the level of content we can afford in that territory. All As Google does in refining its search rankings, most of our algorithm work , like with Google search ranking, is proven or disproven by A/B testing. Only algorithms that lead to an improved experience get rolled out to everyone.
a hundred numerous other areas we also are improving, like how smoothly our scrolling works on an iPad, or how well our kids area section works on a PS3. Most of this work is guided by A/B testing as well.
The core metrics we use to evaluate A/B testing are signup
s rates, viewing, and retention. While our app is much better than it was 5 years ago, it is nothing compared to what it will be even more incredible 5 years from now. We’re now investing over We plan on spending nearly $ 23B per year in in 2014 on content licensing and the creation of original shows for our members.
People’s tastes are very broad, even in a single market. The Internet allows us to offer a wide selection, and to have our user-interface quickly learn and make recommendations based upon each individual’s tastes. Those members who love action blockbusters, Korean soaps, anime, sci-fi, Sundance films, zombie shows, or kid
‘s‘ cartoons will find that Netflix fills their homepage with relevant and interesting similar titles. This allows us to provide most members an incredible array of content to enjoy. When we have a new big film or a new season of a great and popular show, those titles will only account for a very small percentage of viewing. There is so much to watch that even the highest-demand titles don’t materially swing viewing.
As we’ve gained experience, we’ve realized that the 20th documentary about
the financial crisis bicycling will mostly just take away viewing from the other 19 such docs, and instead of trying to have everything, we should strive to have the best in each category. As such, we are actively curating our service rather than carrying as many titles as we can.
Our licensing is
all generally time-based, so that we might pay , for example, $200,000 for a 4 multi-year exclusive subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) license for a given title. At the time of renewal, we evaluate how much the title has been is getting viewed as well as member rating feedback to determine how much we are willing to pay. How many similar titles we have is also a consideration.
In each market, we license content from multiple suppliers, mirroring the fragmentation of the content industry.
Movie content owners appreciate that we’re a new bidder at the table. Typically our bids are for exclusive access to the SVOD rights, and are against various cable and broadcast networks, as well on online competitors. For serialized TV shows the effect is even more pronounced because it wasn’t easy for cable and broadcast networks to syndicate serialized storytelling to others, and we’ve pushed the price up considerably. As a rule, content owners always want another bidder, and never want one bidder to become too strong. The vast majority of our spending is on movies and prior-season TV shows from other networks. Recently, however, we’ve been expanding into Original content, which premieres exclusively on Netflix. Over the years, we’ve successfully developed the art of estimating how much our members will watch a given show or movie based upon how it has performed to date in other, earlier channels (theatrical for movie; broadcast and cable first-run for TV) and on how comparable titles have performed on Netflix. This generally enables us to avoid overpaying for content, relative to member enjoyment. With Originals, we are now extending that concept to estimate the attractiveness of projects that are brought to us by professional producers. There is more judgment required in this process, and more variability due to the art in the production process, but because of the data we have on our members’ viewing habits and our experience in licensing a broad range of content, we think we can do as good or better job than our linear TV peers in choosing projects and setting budgets. Once we’ve decided to do a project, production is typically done by one of our partners, like Lionsgate or 21st Century Fox, with our oversight. We believe we are managing this aspect as well as our industry peers do through operational excellence and good hiring.
We’re now at the scale where we can economically create original content that debuts exclusively on Netflix. We’ll continue to grow our original content offering as we gain scale and confidence. With each original, we learn more about what our members want, about how to produce and promote effectively, and about the positive impact of originals on our brand.
We believe we have a
strong major advantage over our linear competitors when it comes to launching a show. They have The networks need to attract an audience for Sunday on any given night at 8pm, say a given time. We can be much more flexible. Because we are each show on Netflix is not allocating competing for scarce prime-time slots like on linear TV does, a show that is taking a long time to find its audience is one we can keep nurturing. This allows us to prudently commit to a whole season, rather than just a pilot episode. In addition, we are able to provide a platform for more creative storytelling (varying run times per episode based on storyline, no need for week to week recaps, no fixed notion of what constitutes a “season”). We believe this makes it easier for us to attract creative talent.
By personalizing promotion of the right content to the right member, we have a large opportunity to promote our
Ooriginal s content and one that’s effectively unlimited in duration. Several Many months after the premiere of House of Cards, huge large numbers of members are just starting the series each week. The improved economics from whole- full season, and the improved storytelling that comes from giving creators more scope, are big advantages for Netflix. We will learn as we go, and expand our Original content slate as we get more insight and confidence. For 2013 and the next few years, we expect it to be less than 10% of our content spending.
The one material difference worth noting is
Ooriginal s content production is cash-intensive and , depending upon the terms, that means for us that cash is front loaded relative to the P&L. As we expand The expansion of Ooriginal s content , they will consume cash. Since we are otherwise using domestic profits to fund international markets, we will raise capital as needed to fund the growth of Ooriginal s content.
We’ve had a great start with our initial set of original series. Any linear network would be proud to show them. Our success is due in part to great creative execution by our team as well as the power of our large on-demand platform.
We’ll steadily grow our original content spending, and pace ourselves so that we have a high percentage of hits and stay efficient in terms of what we spend relative to licensed content.
The market structure for licensing movies and TV series is generally national or, in some cases,
regional a multinational region like the Nordics. We work within that distribution architecture, licensing our content for each market at prevailing prices. Our advantage internationally is our global tech spending for an improving app and service, our process knowledge, our data from related markets, and our globally-known brand. Our disadvantages are not knowing each specific culture as well as a local competitor. In any given market, once we have achieved the scale to pay for a big content library, we are likely to have a very long term profit stream.
Each market has a mix of local and global content tastes. We assess them from a variety of information sources before we enter a market, and then after launch we learn more about what is most popular and what is not. As we smartly add and renew deals, the content mix
gets better and better improves.
When we enter a market, we have to win the bidding for a
big set substantial offering of content, and then market ourselves effectively to start the membership growth. It is an daunting and expensive process, but we believe any future competitor will have the same or larger challenges.
Our advantages internationally are that our global technology investment is creating a superior app and service, our process knowledge, our data from related markets, and our globally-known brand. We strive to meet local tastes, but our disadvantage is not knowing each specific culture as well as local competitors.
Our strategy is to expand as quickly as possible while staying profitable on a global basis, as long as there are compelling markets to expand into, and we are continuing to see growth in our current markets.
We launched Canada in September 2010, and it is already profitable for us, and still growing nicely. We launched Latin America in September 2011, UK and Ireland in January 2012, and four Nordic nations in October 2012. We are growing membership in all of these markets, and we will launch our next market in the 2nd half of 2013.
Economic power comes from market-specific scale. We would be stronger being the leader in a few markets than one of the herd in many markets. Of course, our ambition is to be the leader in many markets, but that will take us some time.
We compete very broadly for a share of members’ time and spending
., against linear networks, pay-per-view content, DVD watching, other Internet networks, video games, web browsing, magazine reading, video piracy, and much more. Over the coming years, most other forms of entertainment will improve. Consumers will choose and consume from multiple options. Generally, cable and Internet Linear networks have mostly exclusive content against each other, and this is increasingly true for Internet networks. Piracy and pay-per-view are the only two competitors that can have offer a nearly full set of TV show and movie content.
We call competitors for entertainment time and spending
that do not bid against us for content (such as video game providers, sports networks and piracy) “competitors-for-time”. We call the narrower set of firms that do bid against us for content “competitors-for-content”.
The network that we think is likely to be our biggest long-term competitor-for-content is HBO.
They recently wonIn the USA, for example, HBO recently won long-term exclusive domestic movie output deals with Universal and Fox. They HBO bids against us on many Ooriginal content projects . They are though is not currently a bidder against us for prior-season television from other networks. They HBO ha ves global reach and a strengthening technology capacity. Behind In addition to HBO, would come there are Amazon /Lovefilm/Prime Instant Video in the USA and UK, Hulu in the USA, Now TV in the UK, Viaplay in the Nordics, Clarovideo in Latin America, and many cable and broadcast networks in various territories. Amazon in particular and Hulu is are spending heavily and commissioning its their own original programming, presumably because they see the same exciting big picture for Internet TV that we do. Many consumers will subscribe to multiple services if they each have unique compelling content . Success relative to these competitors-for-content would be mean us having substantially larger revenue and therefore sustainabl ey increasing content, tech and marketing spending, leading to further growth, and a virtuous cycle. While we are passing HBO in domestic members in 2013, it will be several years before we are peers with them in terms of Original programming, Emmy awards, and international members. It wouldn’t be surprising to us if HBO does their best work and achieves their highest growth over the next decade, spurred on by the Netflix competition and the Internet TV opportunity.
In the USA, MVPDs have remained stable at about 100M subscribers while Netflix has grown to over 35M members. The stability of the MVPD subscriber base, despite Netflix’s large membership, suggests that most members consider Netflix complementary to, rather than a substitute for, MVPD video.
We have productive relationships with most
Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, given our joint interest in making broadband important and useful to work well for people. Broadband is hugely profitable for ISPs, partially because unlike MVPDs, they don’t pay content costs, and because there are fewer competitors for high-speed Internet (just telco and cable) than MVPD (which has cable, free over-the-air, two satellite firms, and some telco).
The more successful Netflix
is becomes, the more important we are to the ISPs’ subscribers. , and the more important it is for Netflix and the ISPs to work closely together on the network interconnection points so the ISP subscribers actually experience the benefits of their high-speed Internet. To this end, Netflix’s Our Open Connect network program allows ISPs to directly interconnect with the Netflix network for free, which results in higher video quality and reduced buffering interruptions for our joint subscribers. Nearly all ISPs in our markets outside the USA have joined Open Connect, and many in the USA have joined. At times we have worried about the strategic motivations of ISPs that are also MVPDs, but the absence of cord-cutting has mitigated this concern. In the USA, MVPDs have remained stable at 100 million subscribers while Netflix has grown to about 30 million members. The stability of the MVPD subscriber base, despite Netflix large membership, suggests that most members consider Netflix complementary to, rather than a substitute for, MVPD video. MVPDs are keeping their subscribers through TV Everywhere authentication. Internet video services like Netflix, MLB.tv, iTunes and YouTube are not currently a material strategic problem for companies that are both an ISP and an MVPD.
It is natural for ISPs to worry that we may try to charge them in the future like linear TV networks charge MVPDs (ESPN3.com charged ISPs, for example). Broadband is quite profitable for ISPs partially because they don’t pay content costs, unlike MVPDs.
We conversely worry that ISPs may try to charge us for supplying the video data their broadband subscribers are requesting. The danger for either side is a negative precedent that leads to an ever expanding charge under threat of blackouts. Long-term stability is achieved when neither side charges each other for the interconnection necessary to both sides for pleasing consumers. Open Connect is free to ISPs, and we bring the data at our expense to wherever the ISP wants.
In the long-term, we think Netflix and consumers are best served by strong network neutrality across all networks, including wireless. To the degree that ISPs adhere to a meaningful voluntary code of conduct, less regulation is warranted. To the degree that some aggressive ISPs impede specific data flows, more regulation would be clearly needed.
Our domestic margin structure is mostly set top down. For any given future period, we estimate
the revenue, and decide what we want to spend, and how much margin we want in that period. Competitive pressures in bidding for content would tend to make lead us to have slightly less content than we would otherwise, rather than overspending. The same is true for paid media and our marketing budget. The output variable , if you will, is membership growth that those spending choices influence. Obviously, we have some limits to our spending flexibility and our true discretionary top-down process is only practical when the revenue is reasonably predictable.
The margin structure we have chosen is to grow content spending plus marketing slightly more slow
erly than we grow revenue, and we’ve been targeting in the USA to target for now about 100 400 basis points of contribution margin improvement per compared to the same quarter of the previous year. While we continue to grow rapidly, we are likely to be able to continue this margin expansion. A 30% quarterly contribution margin may start being achievable in 2015. At 30%, we’ll re-evaluate the right margin growth target, given conditions at that time.
The primary forces propelling our growth are our own service, content and marketing improvements, and the improvement of Internet networks and devices. The primary forces impeding our growth are market saturation and the broad set of competitors-for-time all improving their offerings.
We are pleased that our domestic net adds are currently tracking to about last year’s level, indicating that the growth forces are still strong. We introduced our pure streaming plan at $7.99 in 2010, we’ve been adding more content to it ever since, and we are very happy with the membership growth at this $7.99 price point. From At a high-level, HBO-linear is our closest domestic comparison, and they have with about 30 million domestic members. We currently have fewer original series and first window (“Pay1”) movies than HBO, but we have more content, more viewing per member, a broader brand proposition, are on-demand, on all devices, and are less expensive , so. wWe estimate that we can be 2 to 3 times larger than current linear-HBO, or 60-90 million domestic members. This estimate factors in that as we grow, our content and service can will continue to get better. Our international segment is just beginning and is in investment mode, although our first expansion market, Canada, is already generating contribution profits. One of the reasons we are investing in international expansion so heavily is we believe that once a subscription video service has achieved profitability and scale in a market (20% to 30% of households), it is very likely to be able to sustain that profit stream for many decades. At that percentage of households, our advantages in content acquisition and member acquisition are considerable. Broadcast networks were huge and growing franchises for decades, until cable viewing started to replace over-the-air viewing. It will likely take something “beyond streaming” for a scale player in subscription streaming like Netflix to see its profits choked off. So our view is our profit streams will likely grow for multi-decades, since whatever is eventually “beyond streaming” is very far away.
If we could look
decades into the future at the ways that people access entertainment, we would no doubt see a very different image than we see today — mind-blowing stunning video quality, a proliferation of screens, yet-unimagined natural user interface, and an unbelievable range of choice.
But if we were to turn instead and look at the person watching that screen, we
believe we would‘d observe a number of similarities across generations. We’d see someone who is getting taking a moment to escape into a story — to simply relax and enjoy one of life’s real pleasures with their friends and family.
People love TV shows & movies. We love being the best possible place to enjoy them. Ours is an amazing opportunity to grow, innovate and lead for several decades. We
know we will have great face strong competition along the way, and we embrace the challenge. “We have clearance, Clarence.” “Roger, Roger.” —Airplane, 1980  From a business terminology standpoint, HBO and ESPN are cable TV networks, and Netflix is an Internet TV network. From a consumer terminology standpoint, however, we are a service and an app, while ESPN and HBO are channels, and WatchESPN and HBO GO are apps.  Within TV shows, we are primarily long-lived TV shows that are enjoyable 5 years after they are produced (in contrast to great topical real-time shows like Jon Stewart or competitive reality shows like the Voice).  This is quite different from the XM versus Sirius battle where any one car is only going to have one of these options, or the competition between, say, Dish and Directv and cable. Our competition is like that between Showtime and HBO.