All through the past decade, observers in industry and on Wall Street have offered reasons to discount Netflix’s efforts. Supposed obstacles ranged from Blockbuster to scant streaming options to recent rate hikes on DVD renters. When will these people ever learn? We understand why people cheer against disruptive players like Netflix — it would be nice if we could pretend all these digital disruptions will go away. But they won’t, and neither will Netflix. We’ve written about this in our latest report that people who keep an eye on content strategy will find valuable (see our newest report on Netflix).
But it’s not really written for them – it’s written for people who take an even bigger view, as do we. These people – today’s product strategists – know that Netflix is a powerful example of disruptive digital product strategy and are eager to learn how to act like Netflix in their own context and industry. In our report, we extract three specific lessons from Netflix:
Control the product experience. The company that controls the user’s total product experience will win, whether retailer, producer, distributor, or platform. That company will have ultimate control over what options people have, what prices they pay, and what value they believe they are getting. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s one that people charged with product strategy must be willing to accept. Makers of products as wide-ranging as sleeping pills, running shoes, and auto insurance should all follow Netflix’s lead and control the total product experience they deliver.
Netflix announced its Q3 2010 earnings a few weeks back and the numbers were every bit as positive as people have expected. The company added nearly 2 million subscribers in the quarter, almost four times as many subs as they added the same quarter last year. Yeah, four times as many. While Comcast and Time Warner announced net subscriber losses. At the same time, the cost for Netflix to acquire a customer has fallen 26% in the past year. Funny how when you digitize the customer relationship and the product at the same time, all your costs go down.
The number I always wait for from Netflix is the percent of subscribers that used Netflix Watch Instantly in the quarter. It rose to 66% this quarter, up from 64% last quarter. And remember, this was while adding 2 million new subscribers, which means that new subscribers are adopting Watch Instantly at a rapid rate instead of waiting to get used to Netflix; in fact, they're probably joining Netflix just to watch instantly. This is, of course, why Netflix will likely offer a digital-only plan that subscribers can pay for if they don't even want to pretend to put DVDs in their queue.
Why is this important today? Because it was just now that I finally dug through the summary financial results to find this gem of a quote, something that was briefly reported when Netflix announced it results, but was not fully understood in most of the reports I read. I want to resurface it because this is a big deal: