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有這幾位女員工,Netflix不怕蘋果和迪士尼

Michal Lev-Ram 2019年10月11日

蘋果、迪士尼和其他公司對Netflix統治地位的挑戰前所未有。本文將介紹這家科技巨頭大手筆押注原創內容的團隊。

插圖:Francesco Francavilla

今年7月4日,Netflix推出了熱門劇《怪奇物語》系列第三季。這部科幻劇以20世紀80年代初的印第安納州小鎮為背景,自2016年面世以來已經變成了一種文化現象。劇中介紹了一位擅長念力的小女孩、絕密的政府實驗以及通往另一維度的入口。為了宣傳第三季,跨國流媒體巨頭Netflix與各方合作,從漢堡王(推出了名叫“顛倒”的大漢堡)到可口可樂(歡快地重新推出了曾經失敗的80年代新款可口可樂,且限量發售),再到耐克(推出了復古風格的“Hawkins High”運動鞋和服裝系列)。本來都是轟動大片才能享受的配置,現在《怪奇物語》做到了。

Netflix難免得意洋洋。7月8日,一向守口如瓶的Netflix宣布,第三季上映的頭四天,至少有4100萬個家庭已經觀看了部分劇集,1800多萬個家庭已經看完整季。(相比之下,報道稱4月HBO推出備受期待《權力的游戲》最終季時有1740萬人收看了預告片。)

這是個好消息。

9天后也就是7月17日,總部位于加利福尼亞州洛斯加托斯的Netflix公布了二季度財報。Netflix透露,8年來在美國首次出現用戶流失,約12萬美國觀眾放棄續訂。美國以外地區的增長低于預期也影響了業績。總體來看,本季度Netflix新增270萬用戶,遠低于增長500萬的目標。Netflix稱,內容部門表現不佳是業績疲軟的原因之一。換句話說就是,在過去三個月里,Netflix推出的劇集當中像《怪奇物語》一樣成功的劇集不夠多。財報公布后,公司股價單日暴跌超過10%。

對于Netflix之類巨頭來說,一個季度內容不夠亮眼算不上什么危機。該公司有1.51億用戶,分布在190多個國家,已然成為全球娛樂品牌。去年其收入飆升35%,達到158億美元,在《財富》美國500強里排名第197位。2006年以來,該公司銷售額爆炸性增長,每年的增速至少為30%,成了華爾街的寵兒。過去十年,Netflix股價飆升了約4300%,同期科技股集中的納斯達克指數漲幅為280%。

但7月的數據火熱顯示,Netflix偶爾推出熱門劇并不夠。對于基本上可以說發明了流媒體娛樂的Netflix來說,為了達到期望,必須打造多樣化渠道,實現病毒式傳播,而且要吸引全球觀眾。隨著Netflix即將進入成立22年以來最大一場戰役,這一點尤其重要。

為什么?因為流媒體大戰終于到來。接下來的幾個月里,好萊塢巨頭迪士尼、NBC環球和AT&T的華納媒體都要推出類似于Netflix的服務。因此,Netflix將失去長期依賴的大部分授權內容。據Wedbush的分析師邁克爾·帕切特估計,《老友記》(將轉移至華納媒體)和《辦公室》(將轉移至NBC環球)只是近期可能轉移的優質內容的兩個例子,僅這兩部劇集就已占了Netflix上播放量的5%。該分析師表示,授權節目和電影轉移不會立刻完成,但他也補充說:“目前還不清楚Netflix有沒有足夠數量和質量的內容維持現有訂戶群體的忠誠度。”為了緩解用戶流失,Netflix采取了重大舉措,9月中旬宣布與從索尼影視簽訂2021年開始為期五年的協議,得到了《宋飛正傳》的獨播權,目前該劇在迪士尼旗下的Hulu上播放。

另一個財大氣粗的新競爭對手是蘋果,11月1日蘋果將推出 TV+ 流媒體服務。為了引起轟動,蘋果斥巨資聘請一線明星詹妮弗·安妮斯頓和瑞茜·威瑟斯彭出演原創劇集《早間新聞》。iPhone制造商蘋果在9月初表示,TV+收費僅為每月4.99美元,遠低于其他頂級流媒體競爭對手。舉例來說,美國Netflix用戶每月要看節目和電影的話,每月費用從8.99美元到15.99美元不等。(在印度和馬來西亞等海外市場,Netflix正嘗試更低價格,可以觀看移動端專享內容。)迪士尼+將于11月推出,內容來源包括漫威、盧卡斯影業和皮克斯,收費為每月6.99美元。

Netflix還面臨著亞馬遜和Hulu的強力競爭。亞馬遜已經吸引超過1億用戶訂購Prime會員服務,其中包括視頻,出品的《了不起的麥瑟爾夫人》等原創節目點擊量也不錯。今年早些時候Hulu將基本服務定價從7.99美元下調至5.99美元,目前已經有2600多萬付費用戶。根據研究公司eMarketer的最新數據,Netflix在美國視頻流媒體市場的滲透率為87%,亞馬遜Prime和Hulu分別約為53%和41.5%。

On the fourth of July, Netflix released the much-hyped third season of its wildly successful series Stranger Things. Since it debuted in 2016, the show—a science fiction story set in small-town Indiana in the early 1980s, featuring a psychokinetic tween girl, top-secret government experiments, and a portal to another dimension—has become a cultural phenomenon. To promote season three, the global streaming giant partnered with everyone from Burger King (which debuted an “Upside Down” Whopper) to Coca-Cola (which gamely revived its failed ’80s New Coke for limited release) to Nike (which rolled out a retro-style “Hawkins High” line of sneakers and apparel). The stage was set for a blockbuster binge fest. And Stranger Things delivered.

Netflix couldn’t help but gloat a little. On July 8, the normally tight-lipped company announced that nearly 41 million households had streamed at least part of season three in its first four days of release, and more than 18 million had already devoured the entire season. (By way of comparison, back in April, HBO reported that 17.4 million people had watched the premiere episode of the hotly anticipated final season of Game of Thrones.)

That was the good news.

The bad news came nine days later, on July 17, when the Los ?Gatos, Calif., company announced its second-quarter earnings. Netflix revealed that it had lost subscribers in the U.S. for the first time in eight years—with some 120,000 American viewers abandoning the service. Slower-than-expected growth outside the U.S. also hurt: Overall, Netflix added 2.7 million subscribers in the quarter, but that was well below its target of 5 million. According to Netflix, a weaker content slate was partly to blame for the tepid results. Translation: Not enough Stranger Things-type successes had appeared in Netflix’s lineup in the previous three months. The stock plunged more than 10% in a single day.

For a juggernaut like Netflix, one anemic quarter is hardly a crisis. With 151 million subscribers in more than 190 countries, the company is now a global entertainment brand. Last year its revenues soared 35% to $15.8 billion, placing it at No. 197 in the Fortune 500. And the company’s explosive growth—sales gains of at least 30% annually since 2006—has made it a Wall Street darling. Shares of Netflix have rocketed up some 4,300% over the past decade vs. 280% for the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

But as its wild ride in July illustrates, for Netflix, it’s no longer enough to celebrate the occasional smash hit. To meet the expectations it has created for itself, the company that essentially invented the business of streaming entertainment must create a diverse pipeline of viral hits with global appeal. That’s especially true because Netflix is about to enter into the biggest battle in its 22-year history.

Why? At long last, the streaming wars have arrived. Over the next several months, establishment Hollywood powers Disney, NBCUniversal, and AT&T’s WarnerMedia are all launching their own Netflix-like services. As a result, Netflix will lose a significant portion of the licensed content it has long relied on for much of its usage. Friends (which will move to WarnerMedia’s service) and The Office (which will go to NBCUniversal) are just two of the high-profile content departures expected in the near future, and they account for 5% of all viewing on Netflix, according to estimates from Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter. The migration of licensed shows and films away from the platform won’t happen immediately, says the analyst, but he also adds that it is “unclear whether Netflix can replace them with quantity and quality sufficient to keep its current subscriber base loyal.” Netflix made one major move to mitigate the exodus in mid-September, when it announced a five-year deal, beginning in 2021, with Sony Pictures Television for the exclusive rights to Seinfeld, which currently runs on Disney-owned Hulu.

Another deep-pocketed new rival is Apple, which will debut its Apple TV+ streaming service on Nov. 1. To make a splash on arrival, Apple has shelled out big bucks to secure A-listers Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon as costars for its original series The Morning Show. The iPhone maker said in early September that the price for Apple TV+ would be just $4.99 per month, well below the cost of the rest of the top streaming rivals. Netflix subscribers in the U.S., for instance, pay anywhere from $8.99 to $15.99 per month to access its offerings of shows and movies. (In some foreign markets, like India and Malaysia, Netflix is experimenting with much lower price points that give access to mobile-only content.) Disney Plus, which launches in November with content from Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar, will cost $6.99 per month.

And Netflix already has formidable competition in the form of Amazon and Hulu. Amazon has more than 100 million subscribers to its Prime service, which includes video, and it has had some hits with its original programs, such as the The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And Hulu, which lowered its basic-level pricing from $7.99 to $5.99 earlier this year, now has more than 26 million paid subscribers. According to fresh numbers from research firm eMarketer, Netflix has 87% penetration of the video-streaming market in the U.S., compared with roughly 53% for Amazon Prime and 41.5% for Hulu.

《怪奇物語》第三季第三集的演員,(從左到右)菲恩·伍法德、凱萊布·麥克勞克林、諾亞·施納普。圖片來源:Courtesy of Netflix

因此,盡管Netflix仍然身居流媒體之王,但要捍衛王冠必須比以往任何時候更努力。競爭態勢出現巨變。過去20年里Netflix之所以迅猛發展,從提供DVD郵購服務到娛樂巨頭,主要是因為尖端技術推動。Netflix搭建了支持不間斷流媒體服務的云基礎設施,開發了數據驅動的個性化引擎,可以準確估測觀眾想看的內容,技術方面已經領先一步。雖然Netflix相信科技實力將繼續帶來競爭優勢,但其高管也承認,競爭對手正在縮小技術差距。

為了在流媒體新時代取勝,Netflix必須像過去一樣發揮原創內容的長處。

“雖然我們確實扎根于科技領域,但Netflix現在是娛樂公司。”長期擔任Netflix首席內容官的特德·薩蘭多斯表示。公司稱,增長的新關鍵在于增加優質節目和電影,吸引越來越多全球觀眾不僅注冊網站,而且堅持訂閱。“我們每天面臨的挑戰就是制作能牢牢吸引觀眾的節目,對每位用戶來說還不一樣。”薩蘭多斯說。

Netflix表示,多年來一直在為此刻做準備。近年來該公司龐大的支出就是例證,從熱播監獄劇《女子監獄》到奧斯卡獲獎影片《羅馬》,還有介于之間的小眾內容。2018年,Netflix投資約120億美元制作700個新原創節目,覆蓋了所有能想到的類型,包括劇本、無劇本、紀錄片、脫口秀特輯,還有動畫。分析人士預計,今年Netflix的內容預算將增至150億美元。為了資助各節目,Netflix大舉借債。目前其賬面上有126億美元的長期債務,高于2017年年底的65億美元。

Netflix相信,新內容大量涌現會有所助益,將來也可以吸引用戶。但公司的成功關鍵在于推出能引起觀眾共鳴的節目。雖然Netflix的算法可以根據用戶看完一部電視劇所需時間,極為準確地預測出用戶的忠誠度,但要預測某劇本能不能變成《怪異物語》一樣的大熱劇,科學并沒有那么可靠。“有些事情不一定能精確地靠模型推算出來。”薩蘭多斯說。

為了應對新挑戰,Netflix組建了由資深內容開發人員的團隊,跟硅谷會議室里典型的高管團隊幾乎沒有什么相似之處。其中多數人過去幾年才加入Netflix,都來自于傳統的好萊塢圈子。團隊融合了不同的民族、種族和性取向,也是Netflix希望與不同地域和類別的受眾建立聯系從而擴大用戶群的戰略。團隊中的幾位高級成員碰巧也是女性。Netflix加入流媒體戰爭之后,該團隊就是沖鋒隊。

So while Netflix remains the streaming king, it will have to fight harder than ever to defend its crown. And the dynamics of the competition are shifting dramatically. Netflix’s meteoric rise over the past two decades, from DVD-by-mail service to entertainment powerhouse, has been fueled primarily by cutting-edge technology. From the cloud infrastructure that enabled its seamless streaming service to the data-driven personalization engines making educated guesses at what viewers wanted to watch, the company has been a step ahead. Even though Netflix believes its tech prowess will continue to give it a competitive advantage, its top executives concede that its rivals are narrowing the technology gap.

To win in the new era of streaming, Netflix must become as good at producing original content as it has always been at delivering it.

“While we certainly have our roots in tech, Netflix today is an entertainment company,” says Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s longtime chief content officer. The new key to growth, according to the company, is an expanding roster of must-see shows and movies that get an increasingly global audience to not only sign up for Netflix but also stay subscribed. “Our challenge every day is making a show you can’t live without, and that show is different for every person,” says Sarandos.

Netflix says it has been preparing for this moment for years. And the proof is the enormous spending spree on which the company has embarked in recent years to produce everything from the hit prison-drama series Orange Is the New Black to the Oscar-winning film Roma—and gobs of niche content in between. In 2018, the company invested some $12 billion to produce 700 new, original programs in every conceivable category—scripted, unscripted, documentaries, stand-up comedy specials, animation. And analysts expect Netflix’s content budget to rise to $15 billion this year. To help finance all that programming, Netflix has borrowed a lot of money: It currently holds $12.6 billion in long-term debt on its books, up from $6.5 billion at the end of 2017.

The gusher of new content, Netflix believes, will provide benefits and draw subscribers well into the future. But its success hinges on launching shows that resonate with viewers. While Netflix’s algorithms may be able to predict the loyalty of a subscriber with uncanny accuracy based on how long she takes to finish watching a series, predicting whether a script will become the next Stranger Things is less scientific. “There are some things you can’t necessarily model out with great precision,” says Sarandos.

To address this new challenge, Netflix has assembled a team of veteran content developers who bear little resemblance to the typical C-suite crew sitting around a Silicon Valley conference room. Most of them have joined Netflix just in the past few years and were poached from the traditional Hollywood ecosystem. They present a diverse range of ethnicities, races, and sexual orientations—an approach that reflects Netflix’s strategy of continuing to build its user base by connecting with audience segments across geographies and categories. Several of the senior members of the team also happen to be women. As Netflix enters the streaming wars, they’re the ones leading the charge.

****

不久前的一個星期二晚上,西好萊塢約200名粉絲排隊進入一家Sprouts雜貨店上方的女性專用共同工作空間,慶祝《美女摔角聯盟》第三季開播,該劇是Netflix上很受歡迎的劇,內容是女性摔跤手的故事。空間內部看起來像是偏成年人版的少女臥室:舒適的淺綠色沙發、桃色椅子,高至房頂的書架上整齊擺放著色彩協調的書籍。與會者幾乎全是女性,一邊啜飲著免費的葡萄酒一邊走來走去。該劇的主演(全是女性)和創作者(也都是女性)悉數出席放映式。簽到時有人分發款桃紅色腰包,頗有20世紀80年代懷舊感,也正是《美女摔角聯盟》故事發生的時代。

“在這里舉辦活動再合適不過了。”觀眾就座后,Netflix負責原創內容的副總裁辛迪·霍蘭德發表講話稱。她剛說完,燈光就暗了下來,大屏幕上開始播放新一季《美女摔角聯盟》的第一集。

霍蘭德不管是服裝還是個性都相當樸實。她穿著標志性的深色夾克和褲子,不管職責變得多重要,自稱性格內向的她并不追求成為聚光燈焦點。2002年霍蘭德加入Netflix,當時該公司還以其標志性的紅信封出名,而不是靠像《美女摔角聯盟》之類的劇集。該公司在1997年推出DVD郵購業務,由現任首席執行官里德·黑斯廷斯和聯合創始人、前首席執行官馬克·蘭道夫共同創辦。當時,薩蘭多斯和霍蘭德的任務是為DVD發行尋找節目并獲得授權,起初團隊小而精干,主要來自于技術和娛樂圈。(如今,Netflix內容部門在全球約有400名員工。)

“我立刻發現她是一位非常講邏輯的決策者。”薩蘭多斯談到第一份工作時說。“辛迪還有個超能力:能比我認識的任何人閱讀和分解劇本結構更快也更準確。”

十年后,盡管Netflix的流媒體業務開始蓬勃發展,但其領導層預計業務模式最終將面臨挑戰:到某一時刻,該公司將無法繼續擴大授權內容庫,至少無法以合理成本擴展。到最后,傳統的好萊塢玩家都希望保留自家的優質節目和電影。“很快,獲得版權授權跟自制節目的成本會一樣高。”霍蘭德說。Netflix可不想等到被迫自制內容再行動。

發力原創內容的契機是2011年2月,當時英國政治驚險片《紙牌屋》的制作人找到Netflix,提出了有趣的提議:買下版權拍原創電視劇在美國播出。Netflix很快抓住了機會。而且賭贏了。在Netflix版的《紙牌屋》中,凱文·斯派西和羅賓·懷特飾演的華盛頓機會主義者大受歡迎。(斯派西被指控性騷擾之后離開了該劇。)

“他們預料到了。”好萊塢公司Creative Artists Agency的資深人才經紀人馬特·德爾皮亞諾表示,(目前德爾皮亞諾是制片公司Cavalry Media的合伙人。)“他們料到這部劇的重要性后,就再沒有猶豫過。”

On a recent Tuesday evening in West Hollywood, about 200 fans file into a women-only coworking space above a Sprouts grocery store to celebrate the third season of GLOW, a popular Netflix show about female wrestlers. The inside of the space looks like a slightly more adult version of a teenage girl’s dream bedroom: There are plush, pale-green sofas, peach-hued chairs, and wall-to-wall shelves neatly filled with color-coordinated books. The attendees, almost entirely women, mill about sipping complimentary wine. The show’s leading actors (all women) and its creators (also women) are on hand for the screening. Over by registration, someone is handing out hot-pink fanny packs, a throwback to the 1980s era in which GLOW, which stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, takes place.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to hold this event,” says Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president of original content, addressing the crowd as they take their seats. Shortly after she speaks, the lights dim, and the first episode of the new season of GLOW pops up on a large screen.

Holland is no-frills, in both ensemble and personality. Dressed in her signature dark jacket and pants, the self-described introvert doesn’t seek the spotlight, however visible her role has become. Holland joined Netflix in 2002, at a time when the company was still known for its signature red envelopes, not shows like GLOW. The DVD-by-mail business was launched in 1997, the brainchild of current CEO Reed Hastings and his cofounder, former CEO Marc Randolph. Back then, ?Sarandos and Holland’s task was to find and license programs for DVD distribution, and they did it with a lean team of transplants from tech and entertainment circles. (Today, Netflix’s content department employs some 400 people worldwide.)

“What I saw in her right away was a very logical decision-maker,” Sarandos says of his first hire. “She also had a superpower: Cindy could read and break down the mechanics of a script better and faster than anyone I know.”

A decade later, even as Netflix’s streaming business began to boom, its leadership anticipated an eventual challenge to its model: At some point, the company wouldn’t be able to keep expanding its library of licensed content, at least not at a reasonable cost. Eventually, the traditional Hollywood players who had created all of those must-see programs and movies would want to keep them for themselves. “Pretty soon, you could see a world where it would cost us just as much to license a show as it would to make one for ourselves,” says Holland. Netflix didn’t want to wait until it had to create its own content.

The catalyst for jumping into original content came in February 2011, when the producers of House of Cards, a British-made political thriller, came to Netflix with an interesting proposition: buying the rights to make an original version of the popular series for an American audience. Netflix quickly bit on the opportunity. The bet paid off. Netflix’s House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as ruthless Washington opportunists, was a streaming sensation. (Spacey eventually left the show after allegations of past sexual misconduct.)

“They saw it coming,” says Matt DelPiano, a longtime talent agent with Hollywood firm Creative Artists Agency, who was involved with inking the deal for House of Cards. (DelPiano is ?currently a partner with production company Cavalry Media.) “And once they saw what that show did for them, they never looked back.”

****

去年8月,Netflix宣布砍掉《先見之明》,隨即面臨非常激烈的反對。《先見之明》于2016年推出,主要講述超自然的故事,故事中一位失蹤的盲人婦女回到密歇根郊區的家中,視力莫名其妙地恢復。該劇的拍攝成本很高,觀眾卻相對較少。電視網絡砍掉這種劇很簡單,但引發了該劇狂熱粉絲們的憤怒。他們在時代廣場張貼廣告牌,組織快閃抗議行動,還發起了Change.org 網站呼吁保留該劇,收集了80000個簽名。有些人在好萊塢和紐約的Netflix辦公室外抗議。其中有一名鐵桿粉絲是失業的電視編劇,名叫恩皮里爾·揚,她甚至絕食抗議,聲稱《先見之明》比食物還重要。

不過,Netflix最終還是取消了該劇。

這個例子顯示出Netflix不斷發展的運營模式兩大特點:第一,吸引小眾仍然很好,但也別太小眾。第二,Netflix正在學習更類似于傳統好萊塢電影公司的運作方式。

由于Netflix不依賴廣告收入,而且可以輕易獲得大量數據,所以能細分受眾,為各種各樣所謂口味群體打造節目。因此,該公司在藝術家和觀眾中聲望頗高,成為晦澀且小卡司內容的天堂。“我們的重點并不是周二晚8點最適合的劇。”霍蘭德說。

至于成功與否,要看觀眾人數與生產成本的比例。低成本的節目如果能吸引忠實的小眾觀眾,可能相對價值很高;高成本的節目如果無法大范圍吸引觀眾就不合算。Netflix當然希望收視率越高越好,也想讓評論家吃驚然后收獲一堆獎項。但實際情況是,每部像《怪奇物語》一樣成功的劇集背后,可能有十幾部無法吸引大量觀眾引起轟動、但能帶來可觀投資回報的劇。《先見之明》不屬于這種情況。

Netflix一直是數據驅動的公司。公司文化并不是關懷型。在產品方面一向如此,包括工程師、設計師和幕后開發人員,如今在內容方面也是如此。作家、導演和演員之類的“雇傭人才”欣賞Netflix的自由還有行動速度。從一開始,Netflix就搶購下整個季的《紙牌屋》,而不是像行業常規操作一樣讓人先試寫,震驚了全行業。一旦某節目進入開發階段,通常就不用再滿足“電視臺筆記”,也就是電視臺主管提供的大量反饋。

This past August, Netflix announced that it was canceling a program called The OA—and the tech giant was promptly confronted with some very vocal backlash. Launched in 2016, The OA is a supernatural drama about a missing blind woman who returns to her suburban Michigan family with her vision inexplicably restored. The series was expensive to shoot and its audience relatively tiny. For a broadcast network, cancellation would be a no-brainer. But the show’s ardent fans were incensed. They put up billboards and organized flash mobs in Times Square. They started a Change.org campaign to save the series, gathering 80,000 signatures. Some protested outside Netflix’s offices in Hollywood and New York. And one hard-core devotee, an unemployed TV writer named Emperial Young, went on a hunger strike, saying she needed The OA more than she needed food.

Netflix canceled the show anyway.

The episode illustrates two things about Netflix’s evolving operating model: First, niche appeal is still good—just not too niche. Second, Netflix is learning to operate a bit more like a traditional Hollywood studio.

Because Netflix isn’t dependent on advertising dollars and because it has so much data at its fingertips, it can micro-?segment audiences to create programs for a wide variety of different so-called taste clusters. As a result, the company has built a reputation among artists and viewers as a haven for obscure, narrow-cast content. “We’re not so focused on what is the best thing to put on Tuesday at 8 o’clock,” says Holland.

Success is measured in viewership numbers proportional to the cost of production. A low-budget show that secures a loyal tranche of niche viewers may have high relative value; an expensive show that fails to catch on with a wider audience doesn’t add up. To be sure, Netflix wants as much viewership as possible. And it wants to wow critics and land awards. But for every Stranger Things, there are probably a dozen other programs that don’t garner large audiences or big headlines but still generate significant return on investment. But not The OA.

Netflix has always been a data-driven company. It’s not a hand-holding culture. That has always been true on the product side—the engineers, designers, and developers who work behind the scenes—and it’s true today on the content side. “Talent for hire”—like writers, directors, and actors—appreciate the freedom and the speed at which Netflix moves. From the very beginning, with House of Cards, the company shocked the industry by snapping up entire seasons rather than just commissioning a pilot—the long-standing process by which Hollywood develops programs. And once a show is in development, there are typically no “network notes,” the copious feedback provided by television executives, to cater to.

左起:辛迪·霍蘭德和西村麗薩。圖片來源:Jessica Chou for Fortune; Styling by Christopher Kim; Grooming by Su Han

但Netflix文化的某些方面并不太受歡迎。演藝人員抱怨說,公司高管不斷輪轉,導致很難留住業績強的人。運作中的項目太多,很難脫穎而出,也很難拿到像樣的預算。與大手筆消費的形象相反,Netflix在業內是出了名的節儉,至少日常經營中如此。“他們總在努力省錢,尋找最便宜的方式,即使長遠來看并不好。非常有‘初創公司’的感覺。”一位正在為Netflix寫劇本,不愿具名的電視編劇表示。

Netflix還有一種吝嗇遭到業內許多人抨擊,就是不愿分享數據。收視率數據提供商尼爾森對其坐擁的數據寶庫簡直垂涎三尺。然而該公司對幫平臺創建內容的人們隱瞞信息。這是Netflix可能需要改掉的壞習慣,尤其是在競爭平臺爭奪人才的情況下。

“你認為他們不會告訴馬丁·斯科塞斯電影有多少人看?”前人才經紀人德爾皮亞諾說。今年11月,傳奇導演馬丁·斯科塞斯即將上映的電影《愛爾蘭人》將在Netflix上線,報道稱該片預算高達1.5億美元。

與斯科塞斯這樣的大導演合作,不僅對Netflix具有營銷價值,也有助于解決內容團隊的工作重點:“如何不斷推出最令人興奮也最吸引人的故事,同時維持有創造力的環境,讓電影人認為我們這是最適合追求人生夢想的地方?”Netflix的獨立電影和紀錄片部副總裁西村麗莎說。她認為,強調Netflix對藝術的信仰而不是其技術實力,才是吸引創作者的關鍵。

西村在2007年加入Netflix,是相對早期的雇員,她加入Netflix是為了建立公司的授權紀錄片庫。近幾年來,她一直是公司向原創“紀錄片劇集”轉型的先鋒,比如《制造殺人犯》,以及大衛·查普爾脫口秀之類的喜劇節目。

Netflix吸引導演和作家的策略根源是實用主義。競爭激烈的流媒體服務爆炸式增長,意味著作家和演員等人才需求旺盛,新內容軍備競賽中,吸引人才是關鍵。提供豐厚的報酬,提供合適的激勵和機會都是必須,但推動人才發揮想象力也同樣重要。

舉例來說,兩年前公司聘用了長期在夢工廠擔任制作人的梅麗莎·科布,開始制作原創的兒童和家庭節目。目前科布在Netflix的洛杉磯中心制作20多部獨立的動畫,都處在不同的階段。“我們努力的目標是尋找多樣化的節目,而不是打造非常具體的品牌形象。”科布說。

在某些情況下,追求多樣化意味著為充滿激情的項目開綠燈。“我生日那天他們帶我來這,然后問我,‘你夢寐以求但覺得沒法拍的片子是什么?’”導演兼動畫師豪爾赫·古鐵雷斯說。“我說:‘想拍一版棕色人種的《指環王》。’”目前,古鐵雷斯正在制作源自于中美洲神話的動畫片《瑪雅與三勇士》,主角是踏上拯救人類征程的戰士公主。

對Netflix來說,如何在藝術和技術之間達到理想的平衡一直是個棘手的問題,尤其如今Netflix已經發展為強大的娛樂平臺。一方面,公司希望真正成為好萊塢的一方勢力。另一方面,公司仍將其技術基礎和文化當成競爭優勢,并希望繼續保持。

“我這輩子都在娛樂業。”美國廣播公司的前娛樂主管錢寧·鄧基說,今年早些時候Netflix聘請了她。“我加入Netflix其實有些倉促,也沒有準備好將我們制作的節目與他們的平臺整合起來。”

能拉鄧基加入乃至擔任Netflix原創劇部門副總裁,堪稱一步妙棋。鄧基曾在迪士尼旗下的美國廣播公司公司工作15年,還曾與珊達·瑞姆斯等大牌制作人合作,珊達·瑞姆斯操刀制作過《實習醫生格蕾》和衍生劇《私人診所》,目前也與Netflix合作。不過鄧基的加入也凸顯出Netflix從科技為主導轉型為創意優先的過程中面臨的痛苦。鄧基在上班的第一天都聽不懂行話。“有很多縮略詞。”她笑著說。

Netflix和傳統好萊塢玩家之間的區別還不僅僅是行話。總部位于硅谷的Netflix一向以靈活快速行動自豪。但如今要管理不同國家數百個不同的項目,其相對扁平化的組織風格應付起來就有些棘手。

所以這一次,Netflix從傳統好萊塢吸取了電視臺筆記經驗,即有時候流程多一點可能反而有利。“我們現在研發做得多了。”鄧基說,指的是電視臺徹底決定之前評估和確定節目的方法。“這種方法給了我們更多自由,以防我們發現,‘哦,那個主意不錯。結果卻并未達到預期,那就不做。’”

But some aspects of Netflix’s culture haven’t been as well-received. Showrunners grumble that executive shuffles at the company make it tough to hold on to an internal champion. There are so many projects in the works that it’s hard to stand out—and to get a decent budget. Contrary to its free-spending image, Netflix has a reputation in the industry as a frugal boss, at least on a day-to-day basis. “They’re always trying to save money and looking at the cheapest way to do things, even when that isn’t best for the long term. It’s a very ‘startup-y’ place,” says one TV writer currently working on a Netflix series who did not want to be named.

There’s another kind of stinginess at the company that has come under fire by many in the industry—Netflix’s reluctance to share its data. The company has a treasure trove of numbers that Nielsen, the ratings provider, would kill for. And yet it has historically kept this information hidden from the very people it commissioned to create content for its platform. That is a habit the company will likely need to kick, especially as competing platforms vie for the same talent.

“You think they’re not gonna tell Martin Scorsese how many people watched his ?movie?” says DelPiano, the former talent agent. The legendary director’s upcoming film, The Irishman, with a reported budget north of $150 million, launches on Netflix this November.

Working with a name-brand director like Scorsese not only has marketing value for Netflix but also helps address one of the content team’s central priorities: “How do we make sure that we are continuously producing the most exciting and compelling stories and also ensuring that as a creative environment, we are the place that filmmakers want to come to do the best work of their lives?” says Lisa Nishimura, VP of independent film and documentary features at Netflix. She contends that emphasizing Netflix’s belief in art—not its tech prowess—is key in wooing creators.

Nishimura joined Netflix in 2007, a relatively early hire who was brought on board to help build out the company’s library of licensed documentaries. In more recent years, she has spearheaded the company’s move to original “docuseries,” like Making a Murderer, and comedy programming, like Dave Chappelle’s stand-up specials.

Netflix’s strategy to court directors and writers is rooted in pragmatism. The explosion of competing streaming services means that writers, actors, and the like are in high demand—and in this new arms race for content, attracting talent is key. Paying them well and offering the right incentives and opportunities, is a must. But so is appealing to their sense of imagination.

Two years ago, for instance, the company hired Melissa Cobb, a longtime DreamWorks producer, to build out its slate of original kids and family programming. Cobb now has more than 20 separate animated series at some stage of production in Netflix’s Los Angeles hub. “What we’re doing is looking for a diverse range of shows versus trying to build a very specific brand identity,” says Cobb.

In some cases, that means green-lighting passion projects. “They brought me in here on my birthday and asked me, ‘What’s your dream thing that you don’t think can be made?’?” says Jorge Gutierrez, a director and animator. “I said, ‘I want to make The Lord of the Rings with brown people.’?” Gutierrez is now developing Maya and the Three, an animated series inspired by Mesoamerican mythology. The show’s protagonist is a warrior princess on a journey to save humanity.

Getting the right balance of art and technology has been tricky for Netflix, especially as it has evolved into an entertainment powerhouse. On the one hand, it wants to be seen as a bona fide Hollywood player. On the other hand, it still views its technological underpinnings—and culture—as a competitive advantage that it wants to hold on to.

“I’ve spent my life in the entertainment business,” says Channing Dungey, the former head of ABC Entertainment, whom Netflix hired earlier this year. “And I wasn’t quite prepared for Netflix and the integration of the shows we make with the platform on which they live.”

Landing Dungey, now VP of original series at Netflix, was a coup for the company—she had spent 15 years at Disney-owned ABC and worked with producers like Shonda Rhimes, the TV hitmaker behind Grey’s Anatomy and spin-off Private Practice who is now collaborating with Netflix. But Dungey’s initiation into the company also highlights some of the growing pains it is dealing with as it tries to transition from a tech-led to a creative-first company. The first day on the job, she couldn’t even understand the lingo. “There were a lot of acronyms,” she says, laughing.

The differences between Netflix and traditional Hollywood players are not restricted to jargon. The Silicon Valley–based ?company has always prided itself on being nimble and moving fast. But its relatively flat organizational style has proved to be tricky as it now manages hundreds of disparate projects in different countries.

So, for once, Netflix is taking a network note from traditional Hollywood: Sometimes a bit more process can be beneficial. “We’re doing a little more development now,” says Dungey, referring to the method that TV networks use to evaluate and shape programs before fully committing. “It gives us a little bit more freedom in case we’re, like, ‘Oh, that was a great pitch. It didn’t quite turn out the way we wanted it to, so we’re not going to do that one.’”

****

即便有時差,薩爾瑪·海耶克仍然表現出色。身兼演員、導演和制片人的海耶克從倫敦飛往墨西哥城,召開了一天的新聞發布會宣傳新劇《女當家》。海耶克當初就在家鄉墨西哥演電視劇角色起家,這次她并未出演,該劇主要介紹曾締造龍舌蘭酒帝國的家族復雜故事。不過該故事由海耶克的制作公司Ventanarosa開發。最初賣給了美國廣播公司,進入開發階段但最終沒有拍成。隨后她的制作公司回購了版權,最終帶到了Netflix。

“他們喜歡這個概念。”海耶克明顯很自豪。一說起《女當家》,她眼中就有星星閃爍。

海耶克穿著薄荷綠色西裝,里面是深紅色緞面上衣,襯得唇色格外艷麗。黑色頭發自然分開,看起來不像剛下飛機。“這部劇完全在墨西哥制作,都用西班牙語。”海耶克說。“這部劇將在全球190多個國家上演。每個人都可能與權力、腐敗、家庭紛爭產生聯系,可能要處理性或為人父母等問題。”

事實上,Netflix表示其戰略并不是為全球受眾“美國化”內容,而是努力開發適合特定地區的劇集,其中一些劇將吸引更廣闊的市場,因為故事能觸及普遍的主題。

“我們顯然是全球平臺,每個節目都會同一時間在所有地方推出。”Netflix的非英語原創節目負責人貝拉·巴賈利亞說。“當我們進入某個國家,關鍵就是講故事,需要具備本國視角的創作者。”

三年前,曾長期在娛樂業擔任高管的環球電視公司前總裁巴賈利亞加入了Netflix。她有印度血統,出生于倫敦,后來在贊比亞生活,9歲移居美國。她表示,Netflix的目標是以日益全球化的姿態吸引越來越多的全球觀眾。實現目標的關鍵是安排人們在世界各地的娛樂中心工作,而不僅僅是在好萊塢。目前,Netflix在倫敦、馬德里和多倫多都有制作中心,在包括墨西哥在內的許多市場中都有內容團隊。

Salma Hayek is resplendent, even when jetlagged. The ?actress, director, and producer has flown to Mexico City from London for a day-long press junket promoting her new show Monarca. Hayek, who got her start as a telenovela character in her native Mexico, doesn’t act in the series, which centers on the complicated dynamics within a family atop a tequila empire. But her production company, s, developed it. Hayek originally sold the drama to ABC. It reached the development phase but ultimately didn’t get made. Her production company then bought back the rights, and she eventually took it to Netflix.

“They loved the concept,” says Hayek, visibly proud. The diminutive star gushes when speaking about Monarca.

Wearing a crimson satin top that matches her lipstick underneath a mint green suit, her dark hair perfectly parted, Hayek doesn’t look like she just stepped off a plane. “We did it completely in Mexico and completely in Spanish,” says Hayek. “This show will be seen in more than 190 countries around the world. Everyone can relate to power or corruption or family drama or dealing with sexuality or parenthood.”

Indeed, Netflix says its strategy isn’t to “Americanize” content for a global audience. Rather, it is trying to develop programming that appeals to particular regions, some of which will also appeal to a broader market because the stories tap into universal themes.

“We are obviously a global platform, and every show will launch everywhere, right at the same time,” says Bela Bajaria, head of Netflix’s non–English language original programming. “But when we go into a country, it really is about the storytelling—a creator with a vision from that country.”

Bajaria, the former head of Universal Television, came to Netflix three years ago. The longtime entertainment industry exec is of Indian descent, was born in London, lived in Zambia, and moved to the U.S. at age 9. She says Netflix’s goal is to appeal to an increasingly global audience with an increasingly global slate. And the key to doing that is to have people on the ground in entertainment hubs around the world—not just in Hollywood. Netflix now has production hubs in London, Madrid, and Toronto and content teams on the ground in numerous other markets, including Mexico.

左起:貝拉·巴賈利亞、錢寧·鄧基、梅利莎·科布。圖片來源:Jessica Chou for Fortune; Styling by Christopher Kim; Grooming by Su Han

在國外大量制造熱門劇不僅是好事,也是必需。目前,Netflix的大部分用戶群體位于美國以外,絕大多數增長也都來自于國外市場。該公司已經幾乎滲透美國市場,但隨著在全球市場日益拓展,仍然有增長空間。與此同時,拓展國際市場也為公司提供了沙盒,方便嘗試滿足美國觀眾需求時不可能的方式。

例子A:9月20日,Netflix首次推出了名叫《審訊室》的犯罪劇,共推出了四個不同的版本,為法國、西班牙、德國和英國量身定制。這部劇并不是簡單地將一個劇本翻譯成不同語言,而是使用同一個概念(三集,每集包括一個小時的警察審訊),但啟用不同的本國演員和特定文化的場景。Netflix在所有市場都提供四個版本,意味著英國的觀眾也可以觀看法國版,還有可能喜歡法國版多過英國版。

如果這種模式可行,對Netflix來說會很有吸引力。因為大多數美國電視網絡在其他國家沒有強大的分銷渠道,只能將內容授權給其他地區的網絡。但Netflix控制著通往190多個國家的渠道,而且對內容的掌控力越來越強。

“如果他們能創造內容并實現全球化,就能更好地實現規模經濟。”看好Netflix前景的加拿大皇家銀行資本市場的分析師馬克·馬哈尼表示。

當然,在全球拓展內容不僅要縮小文化差異,還要正確使用語言。但這并不像看起來那么簡單。在影視劇圈,“subs and dubs”代表字幕和配音,都是幫全球觀眾理解對話的方法。Netflix也為用戶提供了兩種服務,平臺上每部劇都能同步翻譯成10種語言,還有20多種字幕可選。在很多美國以外的國家,人們更喜歡配音版。但配音是很難實現完美的藝術形式,而且極難規模化。

Netflix表示,公司內部有一個“內容運營”團隊,正在尋找創新的方式應對字幕和配音的挑戰。但無論最終想出什么方案,都不太可能出自于工程師。“技術層面沒有簡單的解決辦法。”巴賈利亞說。就像Netflix現在做的很多事情一樣,藝術大于科學。(財富中文網)

本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2019年10月刊,是“最具影響力的商界女性”系列報道的一部分,標題為《曾在Netflix工作》。

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譯者:馮豐

審校:夏林

Churning out hits abroad isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity. A majority of Netflix’s user base now lies outside the U.S., and the vast majority of its growth today comes from foreign markets. While the company has all-but-saturated the U.S. market, its increasingly global footprint gives it room to grow. It also presents a sandbox that allows it to experiment in ways that aren’t possible when catering just to U.S. viewers.

Exhibit A: On Sept. 20, Netflix debuted a crime drama called Criminal that it launched in four different versions, each tailored for a specific country—France, Spain, Germany, and the U.K. The show isn’t just the same script in different languages. It is actually the same concept (three episodes, each consisting of an hour-long police interrogation) but with different, local actors and culture-specific scenarios. All four versions are available in all Netflix markets. That means a viewer in the U.K. can click on the French version—and maybe even like it better than the British one.

The model, if it works, is an attractive one for Netflix. Because most U.S.-based television networks don’t have robust distribution channels in other countries, they have to license their content to existing networks in other regions. But Netflix controls a global pipeline to more than 190 countries—and, increasingly, to its own slate of programming.

“If they can create content and globalize it, that makes for much better scale economics,” says Mark Mahaney, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, who is bullish on Netflix’s prospects.

Of course, scaling content globally requires not just bridging cultural gaps but also getting the language right. And that isn’t always as straightforward as it might seem. In show biz, “subs and dubs” stands for subtitles and dubbing, the two methods by which dialogue is translated for global audiences. Netflix offers both for its users—every program it airs on its platform is simultaneously available dubbed into 10 languages and in more than 20 with subtitles. In much of the non-U.S. world, dubbing is preferred. But it is an art form that is hard to perfect—and very, very hard to scale.

Netflix says it has a “content operations” team looking for innovative ways to address the subs-and-dubs challenge. But whatever it come up with is unlikely to be a whizbang solution cooked up by engineers. “There’s no easy technology fix for it,” says Bajaria. Like much of what Netflix is doing these days, it’s more art than science.

A version of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of Fortune as part of the Most Powerful Women package with the headline “Once Upon a Time at Netflix.”

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