All episodes: Netflix and strategy


An imperious Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood stares down at the pedestrians in Times Square from this billboard for House of Cards.

I like this poster in several ways.

Immediately, of course, it reminds me of the series, which I watched with Mrs M a couple of weeks ago. A lot of fun – I’m looking forward to the second season.

If you read it closely, however, this advertising hoarding is marking a little moment of media history. There are ads for TV shows everywhere in this part of mid-town Manhattan, but they are all different to this one in one crucial, industry-shaking detail – as well the date, it says “ALL EPISODES”.

It’s not a series you would have to follow week after week. It’s a complete series available all at once, to be consumed at your own pace, in bursts or a binge if you want, habits we’ve grown from watching box-sets.

This was a show I watched in the UK at the same time as everyone here in the States. Often when I visit New York the ads are for things I won’t watch for months yet – Mad Men, for instance. House of Cards, as I’ve already said, I’ve already seen. The whole thing.

The series (which is worth a couple of months of Netflix subscription fees alone, was the first show that the company commissioned as original content.

Which brings me to the last reason that this poster made me smile. It reminded me the most powerful articulation of strategy I have heard recently – when Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos said:

The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.

That punchy statement is not on the poster, but it is a kind of silent strap-line, an implicit message every bit as loud as “Only on Netflix”.

It’s a brilliant strategy because it is active, immediate, clear and gives not only direction but an imperative.

HBO will be coming after online on demand audiences with their catalogue of amazing content – Netflix’s best chance of success is to learn the trick of building loyal, slightly addicted audiences for original content of their own.

Cognitive slipstreaming: Thinking is an endurance sport


* Updated *

In endurance swimming, I found out this week, you slipstream* just like cyclists do in a peloton. My wife, a sea swimmer, told me that swimming close to the person in front – right up by their kicking legs, off to one side – saves about 30% of the energy.

When you are swimming for a mile or more in the sea, energy efficiency is the basis of everything. A 30% reduction is a big deal.

The brain also consumes energy and we are interested in efficiencies there. For instance, we learn things through repetition, which makes them automatic, saving us from using the energy-hungry pre-frontal cortex. There are a whole load of other strategies and tricks we use without necessarily thinking about them, to save us from doing mental heavy-lifting too often.

Explaining one of my online working habits to Neil Perkin earlier this week, I realised that what I was doing was a kind of cognitive slipstreaming, using bookmarking. To be exact, using other people’s bookmarks.

In my one of my top folders in Google Reader, one that I read a lot, I don’t just have feeds from blogs. Using the RSS feed from Delicious, I follow the bookmark streams of a few people who are reading and working on things that closely match my current interests.

As they read and bookmark things, I see them. It doesn’t save me all of the effort of reading them and highlighting and bookmarking for myself and making connections and putting them in context and writing about them. It saves me the search though, it saves me the effort, the joules of energy that would take, to decide that this – and not the other 25 things that have passed through my reader or Twitter stream in the past ten minutes – is worth bookmarking for reference.

Amazon Kindle’s public notes and highlights provide a similar kind of opportunity to slipstream other people’s cognitive exertions, their brains’ hard work, although I don’t use that as often as following the bookmarks of fellow travellers.

Slipstreaming in endurance sports is a collaborative endeavour. Like cyclists, endurance swimmers in a small group take turns swimming at the front, they develop a rhythm of moving up to take on the burden of pushing through the waves first, then falling back to an easier position. Even though they may be competing to get to the finish line first, the pack and the peleton move together, sharing the load.

The parallel with knowledge work suggests that we should share more than we do, even if some of it helps our competitors at times. It is the final manifestation of our work, the product shipping, the report’s publishing, the pitch being pitched where we compete in an all or nothing sprint. Up until those moments, everyone is smarter if they slipstream.

* My wife’s pointed out that it is usually called “drafting” rather than “slipstreaming” in her swimming group.