While Netflix’s streaming competitors such as Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max’s WarnerMedia focus on consolidation and studio acquisitions, Netflix is instead prioritizing its own service and game investment over acquiring any available studio IP. It’s a welcome departure from purchasing distressed movie studios or long-forgotten catalogs. Will it, however, work?
Netflix outlined its streaming strategy in its second-quarter shareholder letter. Citing recent mergers between WarnerMedia and Discovery, as well as the last decade of acquisitions and mergers between major media properties, the company stated that it does not “believe this consolidation has had much, if any, impact on our growth.”
Furthermore, Netflix is not looking for studios in the same way that its competitors are. Instead, Netflix’s strategy has been to simply improve itself. To put it another way, Netflix aspires to be more similar to social apps than other streaming services. According to Netflix, its main competitor in the space is itself.
Netflix executives mentioned the acquisition and consolidation race several times during the company’s earnings call on Tuesday, despite the fact that the company appears uninterested in shopping for movie studios. While Netflix is open to new opportunities, the company’s top executives have stated that the company is “picky” when it comes to assets and intellectual property.
Netflix maintains its lead in the ongoing battle for our attention (and our money). Netflix, which has approximately 209 million paid subscriptions, is closely followed by Disney Plus, which has roughly half as many paid memberships. Netflix has a decade-plus head start on other streaming services, giving it more leeway to experiment with its product and take risks that smaller services simply cannot.
That brings us to the subject of games. While Netflix has not provided a specific timeline for game releases, other than stating that the initiative would be a multiyear endeavor, the company has stated that it believes “the time is right” to investigate the expansion. Netflix has said repeatedly that it believes its primary competitors are high-engagement venues like TikTok and Fortnite. But Netflix’s dive into gaming in earnest — rather than through one-off experiments like a Stranger Things game or even Bandersnatch — comes at a transitional time for the streaming giant as the world begins to reopen and streaming faces new hurdles for hooking and retaining subscribers.
Even though it lost 400,000 paid net adds, the company said it added 1.5 million paid memberships in the second quarter of 2021, exceeding its 1 million guidance forecast. However, while the company stated that its business is healthy and its churn rate — the number of members leaving the service — is lower when compared to a more “comparable” quarter in 2019, CFO Spencer Neumann stated during the company’s earnings call that Netflix is still experiencing “a little bit of that drag in terms of our acquisition growth as we’re kind of working through what we hope is — and we can’t — a transition.”
When looking at the company’s future challenges this way, Netflix’s big bet on gaming tracks. It creates new ways to extend the shelf life of content and characters that are already resonating with viewers. But what would Netflix games even look like?
In terms of the company’s future gaming strategy, Netflix COO and chief product officer Greg Peters stated during the call that gaming is “an extension of the core entertainment offering that we’ve been focused on for the last 20 years.” It intends to first develop games for mobile devices, though other formats may be considered in the future. While Netflix intends to experiment with its gaming strategy, Peters stated that it will include licensing opportunities, games that expand on its existing IP, and standalone games. According to Peters, this could even include a game that generates enough buzz to be turned into a film or television series.
It’s impossible to say whether gamifying Netflix content will help it scale in any meaningful way right now. However, Netflix’s emphasis on content and product over IP acquisitions and mergers — the preferred strategy of most of its streaming peers at the moment — indicates that Netflix is still in a league of its own.