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.

How to pitch a TV show


How do TV production teams develop and sell hit new shows like Grand Designs, Location, Location, Location, Embarrassing Bodies and Supernanny?

In another BBC College of Production podcast (I wrote about its episode on The Only Way is Essex and constructed reality shows the other day), a group of producers and commissioners (the people who buy the formats for a broadcaster) discussed their approaches.

Again, there are lessons here for anyone developing content or creative ideas, so I thought I’d share my notes:

The only way is social: TOWIE’s production process

TV production is something that really interests me. Having brushed up against it a few times in recent years, I thought I could learn a little more by listening to the BBC College of Production podcasts.
They have turned out to be a real find, and I highly recommend them to anyone involved in any kind of media work. Even if you don’t work with TV, hearing about other people’s creative processes are really useful.

One episode on “constructed reality” programmes was particularly interesting. The bit where Tony Wood, who created The Only Way is Essex  (TOWIE to its fans) shares his production approach with his enthralled peers reveals how groundbreaking this show has been.

“Gravity-defying” TV advertising in danger of a crash

Business Insider editor Henry Blodget reckons that what happened to newspapers in the last decade is about to happen to TV: an advertising collapse.

Decline was worried about by newspapers for a long time, but denial and hope prevailed until things, well, fell off a cliff:


Against this picture of doom, you could offer a number of statistics that seem to point in the opposite direction. People still spend more time with TV than any other medium, much of it with live TV. It occupies so much of our time – on average – that it looks unassailable as our preferred medium.

And yet… we could be still approaching the edge of that cliff, if the advertising budgets are about to switch away. 

Media needs its architects

At the Edinburgh International TV Festival last month, Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, told delegates to “ignore Lord Sugar” and bring more engineers, more science, into the TV industry. This was essential, he argued, if they wanted to break the pattern of UK innovating things that would be scaled up into global businesses elsewhere.


In pursuit of perfect imperfection on TV

David Hepworth recounts the incredible amount of effort (faff) that goes into creating a small piece of television in a post on his blog.

The last paragraph tickled me in particular;

The time spent filming was maybe a fifth of the time spent faffing. This delay wasn’t because the people were in any way incompetent. It’s just that TV is one long faff. It has to be. One of the most curious aspects was that later in the interview the cameraman kept jerking the lens away from me, as if he was having trouble with the tripod. I wasn’t sure whether to keep talking or not. It turns out he was just providing some of that jerky quality that they now put into interviews to give the impression of looseness.

All that hi-fidelity effort to look a little bit lo-fi. I’ve huge respect for the craft of television production, but it looks funny to the outsider, doesn’t it?

I was reading one my favourite children’s books to my son, recently: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. David’s hi-fi-looks-lo-fi experience reminds me of a scene where an experimental broadcast of a bar of chocolate is attempted. To get the bar of chocolate across the room from studio set the oompa-loompah’s manoeuvre a giant bar of chocolate in to be filmed which appears as a normal one that can be plucked from the TV set (“because things look smaller on TV”).


TV vs. social media

Image: Augmenting some TVs

Which is best: TV or social media?

Effectively that was the question put to me ?morning by someone writing a paper on how social is changing the media lanscape. They were being usefully provocative rather than asking a silly question, putting me on the spot, and I rather enjoyed it.

Thing is, there’s not an either / or, is there? As The Economist put it in its recent report on TV, social media doesn’t necessarily stop people watching TV:

Even the technological futurists found it hard to imagine the explosion of websites, social networking and mobile phones that was to come. Yet these things have not displaced television. Rather, they have squeezed around it

Look at Japan, a country that leads many technological trends. Last year Tokyo residents spent an average of 60 minutes a day at home consuming media on the internet or a mobile phone, up from just six minutes in 2000. But they also spent more time in front of the television: an average of 216 minutes, up from 206 minutes. Among young women, the group that advertisers most want to reach, television-watching went up more steeply. Admittedly their attention was not always fixed on the box. Many teenage girls send text messages on their mobile phones while watching television. ?In Japan we like to do two things at the same time,? explains Ritsuya Oku of Dentsu, an advertising agency.

Social media makes a lot of TV better to watch, as you can watch it with friends and interesting strangers. Take the leaders’ debates in the UK election, any major reality show or the World Cup. All of these things have been live TV experiences I have enjoyed more, turned up for more or less because I knew there would be interesting conversation,?cathartic release with that genre known in my house as “shouty telly” (Apprentice: “What are they doing? Idiots!”, X-Factor: “What are they doing? Have they no shame! Leaders debates in the election: “What are they saying/doing? Idiots!/Have they no shame!).

Social media, our web, settles over our lives like a layer. It augments, adds to our experiences rather pushing them out of the way.

The questions in the interview yesterday, and the trajectory of debates in the media industry generally are about displacement, replacement, of broadcast or channel formats. Social media is more about the super-charging of how we have conversations with one another than a new kind of mass media. It’s coming from a different direction altogether.

Remember what Kevin Kelly said about the web: it disrupts and then it absorbs what it touches. It becomes the medium, the industry, assimilating it rather than doing away with it.

* * Sometimes we even create in the gaps. At half-time in the first England match in the World Cup, moments after Robert Green had mishandled the ball and let in a USA goal, my son and his godfather were re-enacting the dreadful moment in the garden. It was hilarious. I asked them to do it again, took a video and emailed it?to my Posterous. Posterous published it immediately and posted it to my YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and it entered the conversation stream around the game, eventually notching up more than 25,000 views, 500 Likes on Facebook and hundreds of Tweets. If you missed it the first time, here it is…