Many traditional Hollywood execs may have missed news that Netflix, arguably their biggest bête noir, is creating a series with YouTube star Miranda Sings.
This news probably seems far removed from the “premium content” world on Hollywood’s mind. But those execs should take a closer look and ask why one of the most analytical companies in entertainment just made this move.
Netflix is a difficult topic for executives at many traditional studios and TV networks, which appreciate the syndication cash flow but increasingly believe that licensing their shows to Netflix is slow industry suicide.
After all, if consumers can watch network shows on Netflix without a pricey cable bundle, won’t they just ditch that bundle (and the entire pay-TV ecosystem) and catch the show when it hits Netflix? The cord-cutting that’s already happening is all the proof their argument needs.
Meanwhile, Netflix continues to grow its subscriber base (now 75 million households) and global reach (more than 190 countries), and has announced plans to spend $5 billion this year on original programming, including 600 hours of children’s programming, 24 films and documentaries and 31 original “series.”
All that original content is a major asset, enabling Netflix to launch into 130 new countries without worrying about regional rights deals and conflicts. It also insulates the company from network show-licensing holdouts.
On the other side of this latest big deal, the rise of YouTube-fueled online influencers has been breathtaking, as hundreds of thousands of (mostly) Millennials have embraced self-serve distribution, building big audiences beyond the reach, knowledge and control of traditional entertainment gatekeepers, including the networks.
Now comes news of an eight-episode scripted series deal between Netflix and Miranda Sings, the flamboyantly flawed comic alter ego of Colleen Ballinger-Evans.
Miranda Sings has a prodigious online following: 5.7 million YouTube subscribers,1.6 million Facebook fans, 2.2 million followers on Twitter and 3.5 million more on Instagram.
But the character already has moved beyond even those major social platforms. She’s already proven her cross-media chops with an appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s Crackle series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”, published a best-selling book and released a Vimeo on Demand comedy special.
Now she heads to Netflix and a truly global audience in the first scripted deal the site has ever done with a YouTube influencer.
I’m betting it won’t be the last such deal either. YouTube stars are seemingly custom-created to appeal to Netflix and its digital-savvy customers. Like Netflix, the success of YouTube stars is driven and documented by big data that helps them figure out what resonates with a given audience.
Netflix can examine data about these YouTube stars to understand how they resonate and with whom even before it builds a pilot or a concept around them. It can also leverage the audiences of these online stars, and their marketing reach, to drive the fans to new properties (which also happen to be online, where their fans already routinely seek entertainment).
That’s a huge advantage for online influencers and for net-savvy programming outlets looking to leverage influencers’ talent and audiences beyond their original social-media base.
And Ballinger-Evans certainly brings her own crowd: her amusing deal-announcement video by itself has had more than 2.4 million YouTube views.
It’s another example of the continued blurring between formats, distribution points and divisions that had been long and sharply defined in traditional Hollywood. In the past, we had stars who were considered solely as a daytime TV personality or a TV personality or a movie personality. That will matter less and less as influencers build cross-platform audiences, and companies such as Netflix work with them for mutual success.
Netflix isn’t the only online player that understands the potential power of this kind of short-form content, especially in a world where many audiences find their entertainment through their mobile device.
Verizon’s Go90 service and Comcast’s Watchable are diving even deeper into short-form programming and the YouTube stars who thrive with that content. Audiences for these services not only demand digital personalities but the short-formats are key to winning viewership on mobile devices.
Given Verizon’s recent prolific acquisition of short-form content, they certainly seem to be putting their money behind digital-native material.
While predicting the success of any new scripted show is difficult, I believe Netflix and Miranda Sings will have her fans hitting a high note.
It’s even more likely we’ll see Netflix and other traditional entertainment companies dipping into the well of online-video talent more frequently. Entertainment execs can’t ignore that these digital-native creators capture highly sought-after Millennial audiences, that they drive viewing on mobile devices and that they have all the data to back it up.