Mr. Hastings explained it at a Netflix earlier this week: “Apple’s a great company. We want to have people watch our service — or our content on our service. And so we’ve chosen not to integrate into their service, because we prefer to have our customers watch our content in our service.”
The key word here is “service.”
Put it another way: Netflix is a service, or a pipe, that would sit on another service, or pipe, if it agreed to be included in the Apple bundle. And if it had joined forces with Apple, Netflix also would have received little to no data about who is subscribing or watching its stuff. Further muddying the company’s identity, from the Netflix point of view, would be the fact that Apple users who spooled up “Stranger Things” or “Orange Is the New Black” may not be aware that they’re watching a Netflix show. Retaining the brand is as important as owning the data.
Apple and Netflix (and others) are now in competition to become the main pipe for digital video — what television is fast becoming — and fixating on other contests, like who wins the most Emmys, is secondary to owning the pipe. The companies are battling for credit card numbers, email addresses and direct access to consumers.
The focus on Apple’s programming makes for a tantalizing narrative, given how long Silicon Valley in general and Apple in particular have remained agnostic about owning content. But original Apple fare, like the program set at a morning show starring Ms. Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, is just the appetizer. The main draw is the bundle, the one-stop service for all kinds of media. Apple’s shows are likely to be free for a period to entice users into other subscriptions, such as CBS and HBO and Starz, with Apple functioning as the reseller.
But Netflix is also in the resale business. Although the company promotes its many “originals,” it doesn’t actually own a lot of the shows associated with the service. “House of Cards” and “The Crown,” to cite two examples, are licensed.
Netflix’s programming strategy is something of a mystery, because there isn’t a clear through-line on the shows it buys or makes, resulting in a hard-to-define hodgepodge. But that’s by design. Netflix has long maintained that its brand isn’t about any particular aesthetic, like HBO’s. It’s a service that aims to serve up shows for all kinds of viewers, from people who like the teenage thriller “You” to those who are tempted to click on the tile for the dystopian Polish sci-fi show “1983.”
The same might be said for Hulu, Amazon or Comcast, all of which fund original content while also marketing other content from channels — like HBO or CBS — within their platforms.