From modest beginnings in 1998 as a small DVD rental start-up, Netflix has grown rapidly to become the world's largest internet television network. New research aimed at discovering the secrets of its success suggest that smaller local rivals will struggle to survive in its shadow.
University of Auckland Business School graduate Paul Rataul teamed up with Department of Management and International Business researchers Dan Tisch and Peter Zámborský to discover how Netflix got the better of entrenched industry giant Blockbuster Video.
The researchers scoured company reports and media coverage, and applied insights developed by the influential New Zealand-born strategy theorist, David Teece, to better understand Netflix's business model.
They found three key features that enabled the company to ride the technology wave of the early 2000s:
"What Netflix did was do little experiments, little bets, with certain demographics, and once they saw what happens they would scale it up", says Rataul, who now runs millennial career coaching firm, Millennial Mindset.
"There is a theory that companies gain a competitive edge through capabilities that produce value for customers, are rare or distinctive and difficult to copy, and that are supported by the way the firm is organised," adds Tisch.
"The quality and variety of Netflix's library, and Netflix Originals, tick all those boxes."
Tisch says that other companies are likely to struggle to match Netflix's customer data and its relationships with studios, television networks, and star actors.
"I predict that small players in New Zealand – Neon, Lightbox – are not going to make it. You need a Disney to take on Netflix. Competitive offerings like Sky TV and Lightbox will go slowly, milking existing rights for as long as possible," he says.
Studying why certain companies succeeded in changing business environments such as the one Netflix operates in, Teece found that this often came down to sensing and seizing opportunities, and reconfiguring capabilities.
"That's what Netflix has done as it reinvented itself again and again, from online DVD rental to internet TV service, to TV and film concept developer, producer and distributor in one," says Zámborský.
Past success is no guarantee of future survival, however. As market leader, Netflix finds itself facing challenges from Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, and newcomers such as Malaysian company iFlix.
1998: Netflix born as an online DVD-by-mail business in the United States after co-founder Reed Hastings is forced to pay $40 in late fees for a DVD movie rented from Blockbuster Video. Later in the year, when Amazon enters the market, it switches from selling to renting out DVDs. Just 1% of the US population own DVD players.
1999: Netflix introduces monthly subscription with a flat fee for rentals and no return dates.
2003: As DVD ownership takes off, so does Netflix, expanding its library and reaching one million subscribers.
Mid-2000s: Blockbuster Video finally drops its late-fee policy and introduces online rentals, but it is too little too late.
2007: Netflix begins transition from renting out DVDs to streaming movies and TV shows as broadband speed increases. Guided by a trove of customer data it starts licensing new and exclusive shows and films from movie studios and TV networks. And it forms strategic partnerships with the electronics giants on whose devices subscribers watch the shows, driving customer acceptance of internet-delivered entertainment.
2010: The majority of Netflix subscribers now watch more movies and shows via online streaming than by DVD.
2011: Netflix rebrands its separate DVD delivery service Qwikster and focuses on streaming-only plans. One month later it retracts the rebranding after a customer backlash that costs it more than 800,000 subscribers.
2013: The first Netflix Originals series, House of Cards, debuts to critical and popular acclaim.
2016: Netflix now available in more than 130 countries.
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