s3e34: Netflix Should 

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

1:55pm on Wednesday, November 2 2016, sitting in the California Child Welfare Digital Services (CWDS) panel at the Code for America summit. I’m incredibly proud of the team and the work that they’re doing. I’ve talked a little bit about how I was involved in helping set up the CWDS, but if you’ve ever been involved in a government technology project (or know about them) or an equivalent corporate technology project, that team has gone from a brand new set of RFPs issued in December 2015, to awarding to two vendor partners to join as members of a multidisciplinary team, to *live code* within 6-8 weeks of the vendors joining. That’s live code as in: does real CRUD stuff against a legacy mainframe system. This is *insane*! Government never moves this fast. And, that live code? They’re showing it in a demo in this panel.

(I did my quotient of trouble-making this morning by texting the panelists and saying that they should show a live demo in the panel, giving them only 2-3 hours to get things ready. They did it!)

Anyway. The whole thing about the strategy being delivery? They’re delivering. They’re showing it. It works. This is massive.

I couldn’t be more proud.

1.0 Netflix Should

OK, so Twitter friend and newsletter reader Elena Yunusov tweeted today that “Netflix should release a dating app, matching people based on their taste”[0]. And, I said, Elena! I have thoughts about this! So I’m going to write about them today.

Ideas like this came up every so often in my advertising life at Wieden+Kennedy Portland. They fit the brief of a “digital” thing that does something, meets a user need (we’ve done research and it turns out people date!) and is related – in some way – with a brand. In this case, Netflix knows stuff about you, and hey, people go to movies on dates, and wouldn’t it be awesome if Netflix could help you meet other people based on the movies you like. Sounds reasonable, right?

(First: sorry, Elena! Please don’t take any of this personally! I don’t mean it personally!)

My reckons are kind of along these lines:

First – just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. I know, it’s trite and not really helpful so I’m going to explain more. Netflix certainly has the data to do matching amongst users based on their viewing habits. But, should it? If Netflix created a dating app, what problem would it solve for a) Netflix and b) Netlix’s users?

I mean, Netflix’s job is to meet peoples’ entertainment needs and it does that through a combination of providing licensed content (some exclusively) and original content (definitely exclusively). So if they made a dating app, the value of the dating app to Netflix would be… what? It only works for people who *already* use Netflix, right? So we’re not really acquiring additional paying users. Is it just a brand thing? That reminds people how awesome Netflix is? It strikes me that it’d be better for Netflix to focus on their core competency of stuff like a) making sure the content available on Netflix is stuff people want to watch and b) improving the quality of their recommendations so that users can find more awesome stuff to watch to meet their entertainment needs.

So… who should release a Netflix dating app? Well, no-one can because they closed down their API. Which, when thinking about things this way, kind of makes sense – it doesn’t make sense in terms of prioritization and resource for them to offer an API. In the end, the hook for Netflix’s customers is the quality of their content, and then secondarily the quality and usability of their interface. Any time spent on a third-party API that someone could use to build something like a dating app, is time that isn’t spent on making sure that Netflix’s interface, recommendation engine and streaming infrastructure is as good as it can possibly be.

I think the deal is this: “digital” means that there are lots of things that we *can* do, especially when we’ve got stuff like useful/interesting/deep user data. And, dating is a legitimate need that needs filling! But, focus and prioritization is always a big deal! What needs are you deciding to meet? What needs are ones that you don’t want to meet or focus on? What problems does this digital thing fix?

Like I said, part of what’s exciting about digital is all the stuff that we can do that we couldn’t really do before. I think it’s incumbent upon us to also be able to clearly explain *what the problem a digital service/app/tool solves* when we pitch them and to do so in a reasonable way. I now have a bit of a weird relationship with digital “brand” advertising (and the Netflix dating app is totally something I’d expect to see pitched by someone who had the job of doing Netflix brand advertising).

A Netflix Dating app certainly solves the (red herring, I think) problem in a brand advertising space of “getting attention” or “being a part of culture” or “being talked about” because yes, it would be interesting and yes, I can imagine the Crispin/Porter/Bogusky press-release that the client and agency would write about it. But! It’s fluff! I mean, in my humble opinion, *for Netflix’s business*, it’s fluff! It doesn’t solve a real problem in a useful way!

All of this, of course, is just a long way of saying: understand user needs! And understanding user needs also means being able to focus and decide on the needs that you *want* to meet.

[0] Elena Yunusov on Twitter: “Netflix should release a dating app, matching people based on their taste #freeideas”

OK! That was a quick one. 2:46pm now. Going to go back and pay attention to this summit I’m at :)

As always, please send me notes…