Don’t Call It a Comeback: What Netflix Did Next

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Robert Galbraith / Reuters

You know that saying about it always being darkest before the dawn? There’s a sense that everyone over at Netflix must be desperately trying to believe that right now.

After the disastrous past few months, it seemed nothing they could do could stop their bad fortune. But various pieces of news about the California-based movie rental company from the past week paint a collective picture of a company that isn’t dead just yet, after all.

Most obviously, there are the two separate deals for the U.K. and Ireland streaming content service, with MGM and Lionsgate both signing on to make their movies available to British and Irish customers starting at some undefined date in “early 2012.” Admittedly, both MGM and Lionsgate aren’t necessarily “big gets” in terms of movie studios—MGM only emerged from bankruptcy less than a year ago, remember—but both are recognizable names that offer positive signs that Netflix will be able to launch on the other side of the Atlantic without too much embarrassment.

(Hidden in the MGM announcement was the news that, at least in the U.K., Netflix will have both of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies streaming “within one year of theatrical release,” which seems like a big deal, considering that timely streaming releases have tended to come from third parties like Starz in the past. I wonder if this will also apply to the U.S. streaming side, as well, and if so, whether it heralds a new era of studio/Netflix relationships that’ll actually improve streaming selections—something that customers have complained about for some time.)

(MORE: Cheat Sheet: How Bad Are Things for Netflix?)

Meanwhile, Netflix is also expanding its relationship with Lionsgate in the U.S., reportedly being close to ordering 13 episodes of an original comedy series from the studio, Orange is the New Black, by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. This would be the second series commitment from the company, following its out-bidding HBO for a 26-episode season of political thriller House of Cards, to be produced by Kevin Spacey and David Fincher. While no financial details about the (still-unconfirmed) deal have been released, it’s an interesting move at a time when the company has already essentially announced that it’ll be operating in the red for the next year, and one that suggests that those making decisions at Netflix are more than happy to play a long game when it comes to spending versus returns.

Of course, there was also the news that Barnes & Noble’s much-hyped NOOK Tablets will ship with Netflix preinstalled, with NOOK users who aren’t already Netflix subscribers getting a 30-day free trial of the Watch Instantly service to become convinced and/or addicted to what the service offers. (Note to all who are newcomers to the service: Don’t think “Hey, they’ve got all of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? I’d love to watch that all over again!” because it will eat up your life. I speak from experience.) As part of the new deal with Barnes & Noble, Netflix will also be promoted throughout the holidays in B&N stores and “various other marketing activities,” according to the company’s official release, suggesting that they’ve realized the value of partnerships which promote the Netflix brand just as much, if not more, than the content the company makes available.

So, new deals, new content and new audiences… No wonder financial analysts are rethinking their obituaries for the company from last month. Instead of watching Netflix get trapped in some kind of death spiral, what we were maybe seeing was, to use a phrase as overused as that “darkest before the dawn” one, the end of the beginning of Netflix; the bursting of a bubble, as all manner of shoes that were waiting to drop. Content providers wanting more money and discovering how to best pass that on to customers; how to redefine the company with streaming at its core; building out content selection without pissing off providers—all that may have happened to start falling into place at the same moment. Netflix as the uber-successful icon of a Golden Future of Streaming Media is dead, but in its place, maybe we’re about to discover a company that’ll end up defining that future in a quieter, more substantial way.

MORE: Financial Analysts Declare Netflix ‘Broken’ and Suffering ‘Nuclear Winter’

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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