Content and technology are the double helix of Netflix’s DNA: Todd Yellin

MUMBAI: What is the most crucial aspect of an over the top (OTT) platform? Is it innovative content or technological prowess? believes that a successful OTT platform needs to have both. This, he feels, is the secret sauce of Netflix’s success.

According to Yellin, the double helix of content and technology gives it an edge over its competitors. Netflix, he said, only really cares about data pertaining to taste. It does not care about age or gender as that would risk stereotyping viewers.

Internet TV, he said, should be for everyone and Netflix’s aim is to keep making that experience better. He also said that Netflix focusses on encouraging consumers to try out new things.

Talking about the Indian business, Yellin said that the investments in Indian content will double next year and then again double. At the same time, Netflix feels that competition is a good thing as that will help the landscape grow.

Speaking at FICCI Frames 2019, Yellin noted that Netflix was not founded as an entertainment or a technology company. Netflix’s DNA is a double helix of entertainment and technology right from the beginning. “This gives us a sensitivity on how to leverage technology to keep on evolving storytelling to make it better. Back in December, we did an experiment which was a big success. We wanted to try interactive storytelling.”

The aim is to give viewers the chance to decide what a character should do next. The experiment started with a ‘Black Mirror’ movie. The aim now is to double down on interactive storytelling and it will cover multiple genres including comedy and romance.

That said, Yellin notes that content is not subservient to technology. He further stated that the company did interactive content as it was about the demands of the storyteller and then finding the right tools to enable them to tell the story better.

He said that the aim is to open up storytellers to everyone in the world. He noted that great movie making talent exists in India and in Los Angeles. But there are also amazing filmmakers in different parts of India, in Sweden, South Africa, Brazil. People should not be deprived of content as it comes from another country.

He stated that two thirds of the viewership of ‘Sacred Games’ came from outside India. Dubbing, he said, plays an important role here in addition to the subtitle option. He doesn’t want people globally to think of ‘Sacred Games’ as an Indian show. They should view it as a riveting drama about corrupt police and someone solving a crime and being a page turner of a series.

When ‘Umbrella Academy’ was released six weeks ago it was in more than 25 languages. The aim is to make content accessible and giving consumers control. Dubbing was a lost art that Netflix helped revive, he said. He further added that the number of languages Netflix content will be available in is increasing from 25 to 30.

On the technology front, he pointed out that the download feature which is important in India and has made it better through smart downloads. He also said that Netflix has made it easier to share content which is important India is socially active on platforms like Instagram.

He also said that Netflix does not assume that what has been done historically is the best way for people to enjoy the content. He gave the example of trailers which are generally two minutes in length. However, Netflix through tests found that 30-second vertical trailers work the best on the mobile. Netflix also creates different art to promote a piece of content as there is no one perfect picture to promote a movie or a TV show.

He noted that when Netflix started its original content journey in 2013 with ‘House Of Cards’ it wanted to take the great aesthetic of cinema and bring it to the world as a TV series. It did the same thing in India a few years later and kept in mind the fact that filmmakers might need more than two hours to tell a story. Now investments are being made in original movies.

Another focus area for Netflix is to empower new employees to push hard enough and try new things even if it means falling on one’s face. “We have to create a culture where it is not just me coming up with ideas. It is about a diverse number of people coming up with ideas and trying to figure out what would be better for the consumer. It is important to listen to consumers.”

He also informed that in recent research done in the country to find out how early adopters use Netflix one of the things that the company was surprised with the finding that consumers viewed content on the mobile even at home. While people do watch on TV and that will continue mobile viewing is very much prevalent in the country. India has a higher percent of mobile streaming compared to the US.

Yellin also remarked that the only data that Netflix cares about is taste. It does not care about age or gender. “We don’t want to stereotype viewers. There are 67-year-old women who love superhero movies. There are 19-year-old teenage boys who love to watch documentaries about wedding dresses. Internet TV is for everyone.”

In terms of the time frame given for a show to gain traction, he said that one needs to be patient. Netflix pays attention for the first few weeks when deciding on whether or not to renew it. But the company does not get alarmed immediately. The focus is on learning about the audience and on putting the right content in front of the right person to make that title come alive. A lot of times people watch a show years after it is made as Netflix focusses on long-lived storytelling. This is possible as Netflix owns rights in perpetuity.

He said that Netflix goes all out to avoid amateur mistakes. For instance, if a person watches a romance movie and returns the second day only to find recommendations of romance movies that would be an amateurish mistake.

Netflix has other genres and so it does not want to pigeon hole viewers. So one row of recommendations might be romance movies but another row might focus on science documentaries. There might be a comedy row. That is how Netflix learns what a consumer likes.

On the growing competition in the OTT segment, he said, “Competition is not a bad thing. Competition is great for the consumer.” He also said that Netflix has an easy cancel button. It wants everybody to like it. “We don’t want people to not like us. We are in it for the long run.”