Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Monday, October 18th, 2021
It's Monday and we're still talking about Netflix. But also Peacock.
Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Monday, October 18th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ is preparing for a busy Monday that includes two virtual press tours, with a combined nine 10-minute interviews. But I'll have lots of great stuff coming....
NETFLIX AND ITS INTERNAL DATA
Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw has been killing it on the Netflix beat this week and on Saturday, had a great piece on Squid Game and its eventual value to Netflix. This was one of the paragraphs that grabbed a lot of reader's attention:
Some of the metrics seen by Bloomberg are more idiosyncratic, and it’s impossible to glean from the document what data Netflix uses to calculate each formula. “Squid Game” scored 353 points in adjusted view share, or AVS, which reflects not just how many people watched it but how valuable those viewers are considered. (An AVS of more than 9 or 10 is already considered high.) Viewers who are new customers or use Netflix less often are viewed as more valuable because that suggests those shows are a reason they haven’t canceled.
AVS is where Netflix’s evaluation of a show begins, according to current and former employees, and the impact value figure is an estimate of a show’s lifetime AVS.
I've written about this a bit in the past and while I agreed not to discuss some of the specifics (unless I learn of them independently), a Netflix employee walked me through some of this earlier this year. My understanding is that the AVS is a distillation of more than 30 factors, which attempt to assign an overall "value" for any piece of content. An example I was given was that it's possible to track which content was most watched by brand new subscribers last month. That content would be considered more valuable because it presumably was one of the reasons why viewers subscribed. But if those viewers exit after a month or two, that lessens the value of the content. The assumption being that some percentage of the canceled subscriptions came from people who subscribed primarily for a specific show.
It depends on where people are watching. A show that is more popular in a region such as the U.S., where the ARPU (average revenue per user) is higher has a greater value than one that tracks more in regions where the ARPU is lower. Although that indicator is weighted less than some others and whether the content is attracting subscribers in a territory where subscriber retention costs are high also factors into the equation. Netflix also tracks how many people complete a TV show within a week, the percentage of people who rewatch a series (although if the number is too high, it's discounted as possible fan manipulation). And there are many more. Each of the factors is weighted differently and the weighting can apparently change as the company's strategy evolves.
The number of Netflix employees who can access the granular data appears to be relatively small. Which is the ultimate reason for data such as the AVS. It's a way to provide guidance internally without getting anyone too much in the weeds. The general data is used for everything from decisions on additional seasons to PR efforts.
But this data is only a small part of the data harvesting that is used by Netflix. The company does extensive tracking of subscriber behavior, ranging from aggressive A/B testing of thumbnails to UX heatmaps that show how subscribers are sifting through the app looking for something to watch. And it's more granular than you might expect. It's not just determining which thumbnail is mostly likely to convince someone to click into a TV show or movie. It's determining which thumbnail gets people to click in who will then watch the program more than a minute or two. It's a fine line between teasing and trickery, with one being a lot more subscriber-friendly than the other.
My point about all of this is that a lot is made of Netflix depending on "algorithms," but it's more nuanced than that. The real data crunching comes after a project is ordered. As it was explained to me, data has limited use in determining which specific project should be ordered. There are simply too any random factors that can't be properly quantified. But it's very helpful in guiding general decisions, such as the type of content people are looking for, actors who have a built-in audience, etc. And it's extremely helpful in the post-launch period, when it is easier to track subscriber behavior and use that behavior to estimate the ultimate value of a show to Netflix.
THE PROBLEM WITH PEACOCK
No television network or streaming service has an unlimited promotional budget. PR triage is always part of the equation: deciding which projects are the priority and then assigning the promotional bandwidth appropriately. But there's a danger that smaller projects which might have a breakout moment don't get it, because they are starved from receiving even the slightest amount of a PR push. Viral explosions can't happen in a vacuum. For people to "discover" a smaller show or movie, they have to know it exists.
The bulk of the PR messaging from Peacock this week centered on the movie Halloween Kills, which received a day-and-date release in movie theaters and on Peacock. And that makes sense, it's a big movie and based on early box office returns, it's a popular one.
What you might not realize is that the other notable Peacock release this past week was the Original Peacock comedy special Good Timing With Jo Firestone. The special centers around a comedy class comic and actress Jo Firestone gave to a group of seniors and it is the most delightful thing I've watched in months (here's my review). It's the Ted Lasso of comedy specials, a feel-good hour that will almost certainly lighten your soul. It's not a big project, but it's distinctive and entertaining and it's the type of special that you can see becoming a viral hit.
But if you are a subscriber to Peacock, you likely didn't even realize it had premiered. The streamer sent out three promotional emails this week and the show wasn't mentioned in any of them. When you sign into Peacock, there is a big horizontal promotional carousel that is used to promote new and interesting programming. It mentioned Halloween Kills and Harry Potter. But no Jo Firestone. You either have to already know it's coming or stumble across the special while looking for something else.
I'm not arguing Good Timing With Jo Firestone deserved a Halloween Kills promotional push. But it didn't even receive a minimal effort, which is close to being PR malpractice.
MLB IN TALKS TO LAUNCH A NATIONAL STREAMING SERVICE
One of the primary reasons I have a subscription to Hulu Live TV is that my son is a huge sports fan. I would be fine with a mix of a cheaper service such as Philo, basic Hulu and a couple of other options. But he loves sports and if you want to watch live sports, you are likely going to want a cable or virtual cable subscription. So I am excited to hear that a MLB streaming service might be in the works. And according to the NY Post, the MLB is also in discussion with the NBA and NHL:
Major League Baseball is in talks to launch a nationwide video-streaming service that would enable fans to watch their teams’ hometown games without a cable-TV subscription, The Post has learned.
The web-based service — which could address a decades-old annoyance for baseball fans that some have partly blamed for the league’s steadily declining viewership — could launch as early as the 2023 season, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations said.
There are a lot of details that would have to be worked out - including navigating the complex rights deals already in place. But the big losers in this plan would seem to be the regional sports networks, especially the ones owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the broadcast rights to nearly half of the MLB teams:
While the MLB wants to give fans the option to sidestep pricey cable packages, local games will still be broadcast on cable as they are now and the broadcasts would be identical, according to people familiar with the plans. The league’s MLB.TV service, which offers out-of-market games for a subscription fee, will also continue to operate, sources said.
Sources said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred could end up offering cable-TV giants a piece of the streaming revenue to compensate for potential subscriber losses. Manfred’s pitch is that cable TV won’t lose many subscribers, as MLB is mainly targeting younger customers who have already cut the cord, sources said. The cable companies don’t have streaming rights but could retaliate by paying less to broadcast games if they don’t like the bargain, sources said.
As for the teams, MLB’s streaming service would pay them based on viewership in their local markets. One MLB owner said the league has kept its owners appraised, and believes it has general support though no vote has been taken. Indeed, the MLB and team owners are concerned over dire forecasts for viewership. Roughly half of Americans will not be watching cable or satellite TV within a few years, according to Pew Research Center annual surveys.
TWEET OF THE DAY
KEEP THIS ON YOUR RADAR
While the Hollywood Trades celebrated the tentative deal struck between the IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on Saturday, it's worth noting that there has been a fair amount of pushback from some IATSE members, based on the general details of the agreement revealed in this deal memo that went out to union members late Saturday.
More details are set to be released on Monday, but it's worth remembering that this agreement only matters if it's approved by a majority of union members. So we shall see.
ODDS AND SODS
* The UK Times has an extended interview with Netflix film head Scott Stuber (subscription required) and while some it veers into the reputation burnishing territory, there are a couple of interesting takeaways.
* The Chinese war epic Battle At Lake Changjin earned $73 million over the weekend, taking its China box-office total to $768.8 million
* Betty Lynn, Barney’s girlfriend Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show, dies at age 95. She received $500 an episode for those appearances.
SEE YOU TUESDAY!