As streaming and social media outlets attempt to make a push into live sports with broadcast and cable networks, many have looked to Netflix to join competitors Amazon and Hulu in that quest. Amazon will carry Thursday Night Football games during the upcoming season after Twitter did so last year, and many expect Hulu to make sports part of its over-the-top streaming service when that debuts.
However, no one should expect Netflix to carry live sports, according to CEO Reed Hastings. As he explains it, live sports don’t fit the model of what Netflix wants to provide for its subscribers. Speaking at Recode’s Code Conference last week, Hastings said that sports is good in the moment, but he wants Netflix programming to have an afterlife. Live sports can’t change viewing habits the way binge watching has for so many TV viewers, offering something that broadcast and cable networks cannot in their current models.
“It’s hard to transform sports with the internet. I mean, you can carry it over the internet, but what does that do for you? So think of it as the internet doesn’t yet add much value to the sports experience.”
Hastings went on to explain Netflix’s decision not to get involved with bidding for NFL streaming rights, something he also justified to shareholders back in April.
“That is not a strategy that we think is smart for us since we believe we can earn more viewing and satisfaction from spending that money on movies and TV shows.”
From Netflix’s point of view, Hastings’ remarks make sense for the company. Live sports has its definite appeal for being content that has to be watched in real-time to be enjoyed and has little shelf life afterwards. Though Netflix has been a disrupter to broadcast and cable networks, as well as movie studios, with the content provided to subscribers, it has served to allow viewers to watch movies and TV shows on their own schedule and through a variety of devices.
This is arguably Netflix’s greatest appeal. If you want to blow through Season 5 of House of Cards in a weekend, that’s your prerogative. Others might choose to watch one or two episodes a week, depending on their schedules. A film like War Machine or the upcoming Okja can be watched at any time of day, not just at the showtimes movie theaters have scheduled. Where exactly would NFL games fit in there?
Sure, Netflix could draw some viewership as the game was being played — and maybe even do quite well with that. But how many people would watch the game after it’s been played? It could arguably just sit there gathering dust in Netflix’s archives. And for a company that likes to cycle through its content each month, adding and subtracting movies and TV shows to keep things fresh, keeping a NFL game few would rewatch doesn’t make much sense.
As Hastings put it, Netflix isn’t trying to be all things to all people. Their product is entertainment and storytelling. If Amazon is Walmart, think of Netflix as Starbucks, pursuing a more targeted audience, while offering a variety of products to those consumers.