Now that entertainment is an internet delivered product, the brands that deliver it need to play by the internet’s rules.
The foundation is differentiation. In the endless sea of choices available to the audience today, one burning question for every brand is how to stand out. Such that audiences find you, stay, and then invite their friends.
The only answer is by not playing it safe. As Seth Godin (the marketing author) says in Purple Cow, in today’s cluttered landscape, playing it safe means you are, like many other brands out there, forgettable — condemning you to pay the advertising tax to keep reminding your audience that you exist.
The alternative is to be remarkable and differentiated in a way that is valuable to the audience, so that audiences make and repeat remarks about you to their network — which, in turn, reduces your cost of acquisition and retention. Think of the “buzz” around “Squid Game.”
The winds began to perceptibly shift in 2020, when Parasite and Bong Joon-ho won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Beyond the validation those awards meant to a relatively unknown South Korean filmmaker and the value of diversity in storytelling, there was this revelation: Parasite,
acclaimed by critics and hailed as the first foreign-language film to win the top prize in the Oscars’ 92-year history, was also wildly popular in the key market of the United States.
A year later, we witnessed the same phenomenon in the streaming space when “Squid Game” captured the attention of viewers on Netflix.
“Squid Game” was made by Siren Pictures, a Korean-based outfit that had earlier made three films prior, none of which had gained traction outside of Korea. “Squid Games” was made with a production budget of $21 million for 10 episodes. Contrast the average $2 million per episode of “Squid Games” with “Stranger Things,” with its $12 million-per-episode budget.
Still, this was a risky bet. And, clearly, it paid off — only Netflix knows the absolute numbers in terms of acquisition and retention, but from a marketing perspective, it was a huge hit, with the title and Netflix shaping the global zeitgeist for weeks.
The signals are now undeniable: audiences have become receptive to excellent storytelling and quality content, whether or not it comes with subtitles and recognizable faces.
As the leader in the streaming-entertainment space, Netflix might have been tempted to rest on its success and hedge against its risk. Instead, in an industry that too often reacts slowly to change, the company understood the importance of bold, swift action.
Sticking with a proven formula is easy. It is comfortable. It requires no internal justification.
But it’s the wrong thing to do in today’s fierce battle for audiences.
Internet businesses need to be learning organizations, testing and learning over and over. Not every title will be a hit — nor should it be. If it is, then you’re not taking enough risks!
Acquisition teams should move out of their comfort zones and search for content that may not even have U.S. distribution. By the time it has, it is no longer as remarkable as it needs to be. Your competitors are just as able to pick it up as you are, so you gain no competitive advantage.
New, upcoming sources of production — Korea, Turkey, India, Nigeria (Nollywood) and, now, almost every other producer country — are where hidden gems are to be found.
For those without the infrastructure or scale of a Netflix, how can they go about the process of sourcing and discovery of content globally?
Digital solutions platforms help. Online content marketplaces have aggregated huge catalogs of content globally and now provide the convenience to buyers of a single destination in which to easily search for content, no matter where it originates. This allows acquisitions teams to look further than what has distribution locally.
With standardized metadata, in English, with trailers and screeners instantly available, online content marketplaces allow acquisition teams to quickly search for and evaluate titles to find those remarkable titles that will differentiate your platform.
Once you’ve acquired a piece of content, you can push it out and learn how it performs. If it moves the needle, turn up the marketing machine (as Netflix did for “Squid Game.”) Unique, objectively interesting content gets people talking. And word of mouth can be a powerful, organic promotional tool.
New pricing models, e.g. per viewer, per minute (or, if yours is an ad-funded platform, a percentage share of ad revenue) means that taking these more adventurous acquisition choices does not mean having to pay a flat rate and the platform taking all the risk.
In the end, there’s no magic formula or set of data points that can consistently predict which titles will hit and which won’t. Entertainment is a creative industry, and creating content is still principally an art rather than a science.
But by understanding your brand, your audience and precisely what you’re measuring for (retention? watch times? new subscribers?), you’ll have what you need to build a global acquisition strategy and truly differentiate your brand in a crowded, competitive market.
Ian McKee is the founder and CEO of Vuulr, an online global film and TV content marketplace with over 35,000 titles and 173,000 hours of content across 60 genres and 90 languages. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the field of technology, digital marketing and disruptive innovations. McKee was named by Business Insider as one of the top 10 leaders transforming media and advertising in Asia in 2020.