Let’s be clear here – I am not talking about their predictive algorithms that tell you what you want to watch next. I’ve been using Netflix since 2004, I’ve rated well over 3,000 films and they either offer me films I’ve already watched and rated (on their platform) or things I have no interest in. Kanopy, a service I’ve used for about a year and ranked nothing on offers me selections that are 99.9% accurate. So to begin, Netflix, hire more people and learn from Kanopy (and Hulu and The Criterion Channel) and stop using math for people like me who want to watch Tenet, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan and The Philadelphia Story – you don’t stand a chance. What I am writing about today is YouTube and how Netflix understood long before me that it makes sense to post exclusive content on the site.
Let’s go back in time briefly. They year is 2012 and if you are a filmmaker looking to share your work online where do you post it? I said filmmaker so chances are you post it on Vimeo, the only site I knew of, where filmmakers of all levels of experience posted and shared their work. I’m not sure if YouTube was for anyone over the age of twenty at the time (to be fair I only used it to find music videos so maybe it was great and I was ignorant but I didn’t know anyone who used the site much) but I do know that if you wanted to find short films you went to Vimeo.
Now a quick search tells me that season one of House of Cards released in February 2013, which means at this point Netflix is still relying mainly on its DVD business and getting the rights to films and television shows made by other companies. In short, they aren’t doing much that is unique and wonderful to them. Did they have a YouTube channel? Did YouTube Channels exist then? I don’t really know. I had a YouTube account because I had a Google Video account that turned into a YouTube account at some point after the acquisition in 2006 and from that point on I’ve kind of/sort of used the site. My terrible point being I wasn’t paying attention and I don’t think many people were until…well that’s the point of this post.
When did YouTube start making sense? When did it stop being full of nonsense and America’s Funniest Home Videos content and become a smart choice for individuals and businesses to use as a platform for hosting video content? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question. It had to be after Facebook became a closed system (by which I mean when you could search the Internet and access everything from within the Facebook browser) because before that it certainly made sense to have a website for everything. Do we remember this? When each movie had its own website with as much (or as little) content as they wished to put on the site? When did this change?
I am rambling more than usual and I am sure little of it is interesting so let me try and say something of value. At some point it started to make sense to have a central hub for content rather than hundreds or thousands of individual sites that users had to find on their own. Netflix chose not to be a hub, I am assuming, because they are behind a paywall. It makes little sense for them to put their promotional material on their own site – you will only have access to people who have an account. You cannot tempt in new users from within the site. YouTube is free and available to anyone, therefore posting advertising clips and trailers on the site makes the most sense.
So, back to the title of this (what did Netflix know?) and this simple answer – that YouTube is better than other social media sites for promoting things, because they aren’t behind a paywall or require a membership to view content. Presumably their search engine is better because they are owned by Google but I don’t know this for sure. I do know trying to find things on Twitter is agonizing and Instagram is changed with such frequency that I never know how to do anything.
As someone who stopped using Facebook once the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke I can attest to how annoying not being able to access the site can be. A number of products that I use only post their tutorials or help forums on that site. Many companies use Facebook as the entry point for customer support and use groups to share tips and tricks for their products. Without an account I can’t access this content and every once in a while I find myself wondering if I shouldn’t just go back.
But this is the problem and it extends to all social media now, save YouTube, that everyone requires a membership and they track and sell your data (to the best of my knowledge YouTube can be used without a membership, I imagine while still tracking and selling your data). So, as always, the question remains: what should I be doing? When it comes to the Internet and social media I have no clue. I continue to post things on this site despite it being a poor way to share what I have written. Without a larger presence online I have little hope of reaching a larger audience.
So what is the solution?