Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few weeks, you’ve probably been wondering why your social feeds were suddenly flooded with heated debates about Netflix’s new original movie release, Bright.
Netflix now has more than 110 million viewers around the world, and while the streaming service has undeniably hit the mark when it comes to its original television shows, its movies have been a little more hit and miss. But with the apparent success of Bright, directed by Suicide Squad’s David Ayer and starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, it’s clear that the service is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Bright, the story of a human LAPD cop (Will Smith) and his orc partner (Joel Edgerton) who stumble on a powerful magic wand and become embroiled in a fantastical turf war, has exploded in the few days it’s been released – but not in the way you might expect.
You see, not only has it been hailed ‘worst film of the year’*, but it’s received an approval of just 27 percent of the critics of Rotten Tomatoes – compared to an 87% user approval rating. And yet, within its first three days of release, it drew in more than 11 million viewers*, which according to Nielsen data can be translated to what looks like a jaw-dropping $100 million* box-office opening weekend for the movie.
So, what’s the catch? And should Hollywood be worried?
Traditionally, movie marketing is built on a tried and tested pattern of trailer releases, interviews and ads, building a hype that’s centred around boosting its opening-weekend ticket sales. Netflix, however, has taken a new approach, combining clever insights into its user behaviour with an algorithmically-generated release that plays the long game.
What Netflix does is take the fundamental principles of targeted advertising and build them into the experience every user gets on the platform. Its goal isn’t just to reach the largest possible audience with a show-stopping event like a movie release. Instead, Netflix champions one of the most important rules of interface design: don’t make me think. Netflix assesses which of its users would be most suitable for the title, and puts the movie right in front of them in the form of eye-catching discover tiles, full-screen previews and recommended watches. As the service builds its insight into the type of viewer that clicks onto the movie, it can adapt its targeting appropriately and go on to target similar users again, and again, and again. Through putting the user first, Netflix have created one of the best user interfaces around; from its ‘match’ system which makes users feel more considered right through to the dark UI innovation to match the devices people using.
Netflix also creates different sets of ads for a movie like Bright, with its algorithm then determining which variation of artwork the user sees. Clever, right? So, if one user has a viewing history that includes a lot of cop dramas, they’ll get a visual to match. And if a user prefers the fantasy genre, the artwork they see will change to reflect that. Through having control of its own home page visual Netflix can influence content streams more so than any other online service. This is essentially their very own ad space, but because the content is relevant and seemingly free, it is one of the most effective forms of promotion online.
Add all of this up and its apparent that Netflix is slowly building a new era of movie marketing, which will evolve and change along with the user’s preferences. What Netflix does successfully is make the user feel like content is being created and curated for them, and in a sense, it is. Netflix conducts thousands of surveys a year and hold countless focus groups to ensure everything, from the interface to the content being served, is right for their audience.
While Netflix movies appear to be ‘box office’ hits that compete with Hollywood movies, the way they market their movies and the way people consume them means that it’s a completely new playing field. Though the two can exist side by side, to truly compare Netflix’s movies to blockbuster hits what we really need is a new way of measuring their success.