5 ideas production companies can steal from Netflix and Hulu

This is a writing sample from Scripted writer Christen Thompson

  1. Test Early, Test Often, and Test Lots

Today, there is no excuse for a marketing strategy that doesn't hit the majority of its goals. With more data available than ever before and more tools to interpret and act on that data, studios can set more realistic goals, find more effective ways to reach their audience, and learn details about both their content and their audience that can inform further development.

And through data analytics, that's exactly what Netflix does.

Netflix develops several title cards for each movie in its database–typically around 10. Each title card is representative of some crucial aspect of the movie or television show. For example, one Stranger Things title card shows an obscured child with a bloody nose (Eleven!!), another a man in a moonlit pumpkin patch full of rotting gourds, and in another a child stands at the threshold of a darkened room, looking out a fiery, foreboding landscape. Moreover, these are just three out the nine they produced.

Using super high-powered algorithms and predictive analytics, Netflix analyzes a viewer's history, including the title cards of movies they finished and positively rated, and selects the image most likely to attract their attention.

In their tech blog,Netflix Engineers broke down the process using two different viewers' chosen title cards for Good Will Hunting:

"Here we might personalize this decision based on how much a member prefers different genres and themes. Someone who has watched many romantic movies may be interested in Good Will Hunting if we show the artwork containing Matt Damon and Minnie Driver, whereas, a member who has watched many comedies might be drawn to the movie if we use the artwork containing Robin Williams, a well-known comedian."

Netflix uses viewing history to determine what kinds of details in promotional material attract a click-through and video completion.

By leveraging social media and data analytics, any studio can start testing and refining their marketing plans today.

2. Take a cue from cognitive behavior studies

One of the aspects of the title cards that Netflix considers is faces, which humans are more likely to respond to than any other kind of imagery. Importantly, it's not just any face that matters. "It is important to note that faces with complex emotions outperform stoic or benign expressions," explainedGlobal Manager of Creative Services Nick Nelson, "Seeing a range of emotions actually compels people to watch a story more. This is likely due to the fact that complex emotions convey a wealth of information to members regarding the tone or feel of the content."

There are numerous cognitive and consumer behavior studies to take advantage of on this count. Be it for marketing or development, data analytics can help point the way to finding a receptive audience.

3. Embrace Metadata

All of the streaming giants, savvy producers, and successful web-based media companies know how powerful metadata can be. Think of metadata as a digital game of Taboo: everything you can say to possibly describe a piece of content accurately without relying on the title. Each bit of metadata assigned to any aspect of material — individual clips, scenes, description, images–helps increase your visibility with the audience. Rich metadata allows providers to gather both implicit and explicit information about a viewer, and thus possess better indications of what to market them next, what kinds of stories to look towards in development, what kind of on-screen and behind-the-scenes talent to invest in, etc.

And this has applications outside of looking to watch something online. It helps people looking for showtimes, to buy the released version, or when engaging with your marketing material. Each bit helps.

4. Choose Your Own Adventure

In November of 2017, Variety reported that Hulu would integrate marketing and content in a way that is both wholly novel and entirely familiar: Choose your own adventure.

As users watch "Door No. 1," a story about a high-school class' ten-year reunion, they will be able to choose the way the plot unfolds. As part of the story, they will see Nissan and the dating-app Bumble show up in the storylines.

Hulu is not alone, either. Netflix has several "choose your own adventure" stylechildren's series.

One of the most widely adopted uses of the interactive film, though, is to convey a branded experience instead of traditional ad spots without losing the integrity of the story. The hope here for Hulu is that despite the obvious brand placement, viewers will still engage with the storyline instead of clicking away.

For Netflix, it is more about engagement and brand loyalty. So much of the entertainment industry is governed by the viewer's discovery, and a lot of viewers want to be able to take ownership of that discovery. By directly letting viewers have a hand in the way the story goes, producers can create whole experiences for their audience and gain recognition as the creators who understand how to deliver a truly memorable encounter.

5. Make Lemons out of Lemonade

Piracy is an unfortunate truth of the digital age, so why not make the most of it? Early on, one of the ways that Netflix tracked tv and movie piracy rates to find the most desirable content to license from production companies. Over time, patterns and spikes emerged that showed a marketplace desire for specific content. And if that property was too expensive, Netflix would use the show in question as a roadmap for license and acquisition.

For example, let's say that for a few weeks, Prison Break was the most pirated show. The hit TV show might cost more than they want to spend on licensing, but they could acquire shows and movies with similar plot lines, settings, other work starring the actors of the series, etc., to attract the subscription dollars of those interested in Prison Break.

Written by:

Christen Thompson
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Experienced writer, editor, and small business owner with a experience in publishing, retail business strategy, and technology marketing. Demonstrated history of content marketing in the entertainment technology industry. Skilled in long and short form communication, brand-writing, ghostwriting, white papers, pitch decks, blog posts, testimonials, and essays. Interests: politics, feminism, history, publishing, animals, home ownership, gardening, and DIY.
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