Publishing company Complex has become the latest media outlet to license original programming to a streaming service, in this case both Netflix and Hulu. The first will get six shows while the second gets 10.
Complex’s situation is a bit different, as the article points out, than efforts by publishers like Vox Media and others in that it’s licensing programs already being produced as opposed to original shows like “Follow This” that Buzzfeed created (briefly) for Netflix.
That so many companies see deals with subscription services as a good business decision (many of these shows have already been cancelled in some manner or another) says a good deal about the state of the media landscape on a number of fronts.
Podcasts Are Great But Not Everything
There’s been a lot of buzz about the podcast market lately, especially in the wake of Spotify’s acquisition of both producer Gimlet Media and do it yourself recording and publication app Anchor. Spotify clearly wants to get in on some of the growing ad dollars coming into the category, the same thing driving other publishers, though some have opted out after seeing initial efforts failing to gain traction.
Podcasts are opt-in media, though, and serendipity in discovery is sometimes missing, meaning the barriers to people finding your podcast are high and often determined by the hosting company. That’s why some (including myself) found the Spotify deal for Gimlet so worrisome, because the company is likely to make these platform exclusive, undermining the free and open feeds that initially formed the foundation of podcasting.
For all the buzz around podcasts, the audience is still relatively small compared to the subscriber bases for services like Netflix and Hulu. These shows have the potential to achieve much wider reach by using streaming as a new distribution outlet than they could if they were just going through a podcast provider or being offered on the brand’s own distribution channels.
Note That These Aren’t Social-Based
There was a time not too long ago when existing and new media brands were making a big deal around going “social only,” eschewing a hub website in favor of distributing all text, video and audio content on other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Medium, YouTube and others.
But Facebook Watch, that company’s much-hyped video destination, is sucking wind having failed to connect with audiences or advertisers. Twitter has fared slightly better but has done so largely by not trying to create a single point of engagement, instead working with companies like Bloomberg, Cheddar and others to create original programming that isn’t quite so reliant on the algorithm to aid discovery.
Buzzfeed and others certainly do produce a fair amount of social-exclusive material, but they have also seen that doing so isn’t the only way forward. Deals like the one Complex made show that Netflix, Hulu, Apple and others really are, to borrow a phrase, the new TV while Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – which has also seen its IGTV platform fail to launch – are minor distribution points and are more valuable as promotional outlets than viewing destinations.
There are two lessons to learn from these examples, then:
First, go where people are. Innovation and experimentation is great, but you can’t force drastic, sudden shifts in audience behavior and preferences.
Second, know how people act. Facebook and Instagram aren’t used as long-form consumption platforms, something exemplified by how Facebook Instant Articles is a thing you heard a lot about for a while but which was quickly abandoned and is now largely forgotten. They are for quick hits and casual touch content.
We’re seeing a lot of experimentation and pivoting happening right now, both on the production and distribution ends of the game. It’s likely there will be even more as services begin to shake out, strategies become solidified and audience preferences become more entrenched.