Netflix – Technology Wizards or Good Content?

I love the content they produce like Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Stranger Things, and House of Cards. But, remember back to before Netflix produced this content? They were struggling with subscribers, under attack from cable companies, and their future looked very, very uncertain. So, how did they turn the ship around?

They started producing their own content. And, let’s be clear – software engineering at Netflix did not make that decision. This is a quintessential “business decision.” This was a decision to create value for their market – people who watch content through the Internet. They were a content distributor and they decided to enter an adjacent market – content creation.

Yet, time and time again Netflix is referenced as some kind of technology wizards, contributing the OSS Stack, moving to the cloud for almost everything, hiring only the best and the brightest.

They are held in high regard for “disrupting” the cable industry – but, for the wrong reasons. It’s not their technology that is their differentiated value proposition to the market. It is their cunning move to create content akin to HBO. At the same time, this places them in a stronger position to negotiate better contracts for their distribution business.

I would argue that they have succeeded, not because of their technology, but despite it. Their end user experience is rather lacking, yet they keep attracting and retaining subscribers. Here’s a few examples.

1. They finally, just recently added the ability to download movies and watch them offline. Even now, not all content can be downloaded, even some they produced, which makes no sense to me. Google Play and Amazon Prime have had this since almost the beginning of their service, yet nobody hails them as some great innovators.

2. It takes forever when you rewind or fast-forward. Again, Google Play and Amazon Prime both have smoother, better experiences.

3. Subtitles get blocked when the video is paused. Something thst is just really annoying when the reason that you paused it is so that you can read it slower.

So, the next time you hear somebody call Netflix a technology company, just quote their own CEO:

We spend money more like a media company than a tech company

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