in Just Journalism

Netflix and Reed Hastings’ lessons for journalism

Netflix's lessons for journalism

Netflix may be built on DVD by mail, but it's future and focus is on the web. Photo by HackingNetflix on Flickr.

Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics (who I must mention, runs his site on WordPress), published a great post about an event I wish I had attended: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ talk at University of Santa Cruz. From Hastings’ talk, Doctor pulled six lessons for the newspaper industry. While I don’t believe all of these lessons from Hastings’ success and experience with Netflix can directly apply to the journalism business, it is an interesting parallel considering that the movie rental industry has undergone rapid and similar change to the news industry. Two lessons stood out to me. Those were:

  1. “Spend your time on tomorrow, not today” – Even though I recently blabbed about how news publishers sometimes don’t focus enough on what they could be doing realistically today, that doesn’t mean I don’t think news organizations should be looking to the future. Certainly doing so requires lots of time. Newsroom employees, not just company execs, should be setting aside time focused on innovating for the future, whether it’s reading blogs about the future of news or learning to use a new tool for digital journalism.
  2. “The presentation revolution is still to come” – Hastings reminds us of the rapid progression of mobile phones and that building a pleasing, social and interactive presentation for the future is imperative. Media companies need to become technology companies to an extent, and work on building the next Flipboard. Instead, critics find that media iPad apps, for example, have been underwhelming thus far.

The lesson left unmentioned is to put your content behind a paywall, which is basically the model Netflix’s streaming service has. While in most cases I think a paywall is suicide, I wonder if big media orgs can mimic Netflix in creating a pleasing interface, customer-service (or reader) oriented experience and a quality and selection of content that isn’t exactly matched elsewhere and start charging for it online. The New York Times’ paywall is one that comes to mind that has the opportunity to succeed—if The Times’ differentiates itself like Netflix did.

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