Does Netflix’s focus on ‘stories over device’ go for publishers, too?

According to Marketingweek (registration required), Hastings said, “We don’t design for mobile – there are people who are talkin about that [in terms of] vertical video and maybe we will look at that some day, but we focus on stories you want to watch on any screen, including mobile.”

Most of you will be familiar with labels such as “digital first” and “mobile first” to give name to transformation and change, often in legacy media contexts. We conducted a quick “straw poll”: when reading Hastings’ comments, is anyone thinking of a new label, something like “stories first”?

Dominik Grau, Chief Innovation Officer of Ebner Media Group in Germany, says it “is audience first, content second and channels third. Content strategy follows audience behaviour. Whatever screen on which device or platform they use doesn’t matter, because content is flexible once the right infrastructure is in place.”

John Wilpers, Senior Director USA at Innovation Media Consulting, and author of FIPP’s Innovation World Report, says while content is important, it is about delivering it at the right moment to the reader.

“I disagree … well, not entirely. Yes, the focus should be on content not devices, but the focus must be on ‘precise’ content. If we don’t consider the precise moment the reader will encounter the content, even the best content in the world won’t succeed because the content was not appropriate to the moment, the device, or the needs of the reader at that time.

“We can determine that precise moment with a very good degree of assurance now by using all the data we have on reader behaviour — what time of day do they come to our site, on what device, and what kind of content do they consume at different times throughout the day? We risk publishing great content that gets ignored and wasted because we weren’t precise in our understanding of our readers’ needs and behaviours.”

Read more about what John says about ‘precision content’ here

Svein-Erik Hole is editor of Teknisk Ukeblad Media in Norway. For him, the key lies in how Netflix adapts to changing consumption habits, as he explains below. At the same time, he points out that while Netflix is all about videos, publishers have to manage a variety of content formats that make thinking about device inevitable.

Netflix multiple devices (Netflix)

“Netflix is among the best players in the business when it comes to analysing user behaviour and adapting to what they find,” he says. “They are seeing Millennials giving up their laptops and a growing number of them using their smartphone as a first screen.”

They are “reacting to the mobile shift by allowing offline viewing; also working intensely on their buffering time (as mentioned in the Marketingweek article). They know that speed is essential for all quality metrics – the audience bounces less, spend more time engaged and return more frequently to faster sites. And still there are moments when your connection is too poor to be online – for example on the commuting train or on a flight. So they have taken care of these limitations as well.”

That said, “Netflix is all about videos. People working in news or magazine media have to juggle a series of formats, some of which demand more thought about the platform they are being consumed on, like interactive graphics, or even text within photo files. The size, the complexity and the navigation must work on any platform, and these formats might be more challenging than video.

“When it comes to Virtual Reality, with which TU Media has been experimenting a lot with lately, we see a clear differentiation in how people consume stories on different platforms – on a mobile, people are more likely to get a complete VR experience, because most VR headsets are designed for a mobile phone, while on desktops they watch VR stories as flat 360 videos. Furthermore, on a mobile phone you also can take advantage of gyroscopes, sensors and location services.”

Svein-Erik also refers to Netflix’s “unique position when it comes to viewer mode – when connecting to Netflix you probably want to watch a series or a movie, no matter which device you’re using. For news and magazine media this is different, as mobile readers for example use micro moments on the go for quick updates.

“Customisable, expandable content, summaries, smart usage of links and an efficient presentation of facts are ways to optimise this for mobile. We also know that social engagement is higher on a mobile platform, so we must optimise for sharing.

“As a Netflix customer I’m glad that focus on quality content trumps everything else. As an editor I’m trying to act in the same way. Only high quality unique content will attract subscribers and keep them happy. So in this respect I agree with Netflix – content first. But news and magazine media still need to give the mobile platform especially special thought for reasons mentioned above.”

More like this

Storytelling, the NatGeo way

How to apply best-of-breed storytelling principles in a digital world

Is ‘mobile first’ limiting the potential of interactive storytelling?

Media technologist Ben Kreimer on storytelling from the air

FIPP Insight report: How to get into VR and 360º videos

New Innovation Report: Why you need to think about ‘precision content’

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