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An Open Letter to Reed Hastings

Date January 03, 2012
An Open Letter to Reed Hastings

2011 hit many of us right where it hurts. But on a few, joyous, rare occasions, some of us struck back. Case in point: the deserting of the good ship Netflix by 800,000 of its subscribers thanks, in most part, to CEO Reed Hastings having drastically underestimated the intelligence of his customer base.

Attempting to spin off their snail mail DVD service into a separate company, Qwikster, as well as the decision to raise prices by a staggering sixty percent, the seemingly drunk Netflix board brought on a tsunami of outrage directed at the company's brazen CEO. The result of the "Hatings on Hastings" was that nearly a million angry Netflix subscribers filed for divorce from the once seemingly invincible home movie service. Mr. Hastings has since apologized for his incredible insensitivity and short-sightedness, but it was too little too late, as Netflix stock saw a spectacular fall in the final months of 2011.

However, as most good Christians know, the good Lord never closes one door without opening another (unless it's really cold outside). So, one must ask, "Is it possible that the public humiliation of a media giant's CEO; this "short, sharp shock" to Mr. Hastings' once-sturdy system, is exactly what we -- the poor, starving, content-hungry masses -- need to break free from the mundane, "beat the horse and the horse's attorney 'til they're both dead" world of Hollywood? I say, "Yes!" And, you, Mr. Hastings, and your recently neutered yet redemption-hungry ego, are exactly who we need to lead us into battle!

You see, Reed (may I call you Reed?), you and Gordon Gekko were right. Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. But, without getting too preachy, not greed for money. Greed for new concepts, new ideas, new writers, etc. etc., Possess greed for the right things and the money will surely follow. All of this leads to one place, sir: Original Content. These two simple words may not only save your company, but secure you a seat at the final table at the World Series of Visionaries ten years down the road, as well.

For those of us who appreciate our entertainment above the fifth grade level, it's a fate worse than death to be subject to the lobotomized drivel heaped upon us by the networks, and it makes matters worse when you realize the goal of virtually all mainstream media is to achieve the biggest payout with the least amount of effort (kind of like the rest of us at our dayjobs).

Remakes, remakes of remakes, and studios doing remakes before the original is even released. Has there ever been a more ripe time for a company like Netflix (who, in spite of the mass exodus of subscribers, still maintains a viewing audience larger than that of Showtime) to be the first of the big Netboys to give the pay cable and free cable channels a run for their money in the area of original programming? Of course, unless you're partners with Richard Branson, you probably won't catch on to this until VirginTV posts record earnings in 2015, and by then, well... get in line.

But, all is not lost folks, for our protagonist is definitely on the right track, as common sense would dictate the best way for Netflix to recoup those lost subscribers, and add legions of new ones in the process, is to offer new shows people actually want to watch and can only see on Netflix. And they're trying just that.

Most of us have heard about their recent acquisition of director David Fincher's (Seven, Social Network) new series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey. However, as progressive as they would like us to believe this move is, in reality, Netflix, like all major corporations, is still like a frightened child whose main goal is to constantly seek the approval of his/her peers -- hence the willingness to shell out 100 million bucks just for the rights to air a single, new series, which, surprise surpise, is a remake. House of Cards might start the content ball rolling but it still seems to be missing something.

We're already at the point where the big three networks are like sailors plugging holes in a sinking ship. Viewers today want to watch what they want when they want to, and with our busier schedules and shorter attention spans, that desire's only going to increase. Factor that in with a unique, well-written and potentially ground-breaking original series, which avoids dinosaurs and medieval battles, and you can say goodbye to your $75.00/month Cablevision "Gold" package and hello to your Netflix $15.00/month subscription. Perhaps accompany it with a "pay per download" option where non-members are allowed to watch 5-10 minutes of a new Netflix series, free of charge, then given the option to pay $1.99 per episode or $9.99 up front for the whole series. Assuming a series is eight episodes long, that averages out to $1.25 an episode. I think most of us would gladly pay a buck and a quarter to watch one of our favorite shows just like we do when we download a three-minute song on iTunes. Additionally, those new viewers might translate into new subscribers. Just ask Louis C.K.

As expensive a risk as it is, "R.H." (can I call you "R.H."?), for the sake of all of the creatively stifled souls out there, I hope House of Cards works. But, going forward, your main goal needs to move from "How can we develop original content while looking good in tomorrow's Variety?" to "How can we developgood, cheap original content that Variety will want to write about?" The key word being cheap. Ideas that showcase new concepts and talent to your audience at a reasonable budget. Not ones acquired simply because a few big names are attached.

It might be a stretch, but now that every single movie and television studio is willing to overlook their "unsolicited material" policies in exchange for the hope of finding the Next Big Whatever, it's not too unreasonable to think that a company the size of Netflix can find at least two new, talented writers, pay them slave wages, shoot five It's Always Sunny In Philadelphias and five Shamelesses and, incl. advertising, still come in with a budget nowhere near the cost of one David Fincher series.

Even now, long after their "sudden collapse," the record industry still stubbornly believes putting $100 million into one act is a better bet than investing $1 million into 100 acts. That kind of philosophy is exactly why 80% of folks who used to work at a label are now "consultants." I'd hate to see 80% of current Netflix employees looking for work as consultants because their CEO bet the farm on three shows instead of thirty.

An example of a series that can be shot quick and cheap would be a show created by yours truly, along with my brilliant sister, called Rock in a Hard Place; about a Jewish punk legend who leaves rehab and is forced to live with his mother. Any interested Huff readers can view the trailer below and weigh in on whether or not we're nuts.

Well, there you have it, Mr. Hastings. Shameless plug aside, that is my argument on, not only how the Net can save Netflix, but also how Netflix could actually save the Net. (That's like a screenplay right there; A once regal CEO, now forced to live on the few remaining hundreds of millions in his checking account, enlists the help of the sitcom-induced townspeople, and, together, they not only save the town and help the company reach unimaginable heights, they save the CEO's soul as well.)

I'm sure my formula has a dozen holes, and is most likely ten years ahead of its time, but hopefully, you get the point.

You had the foresight to see the future of video rental when Blockbuster was blind. Now, you're trying to see where the road of online content leads, which is admirable. You just need a better pair of binoculars.

 

Follow David Fagin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nikchapman

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