Could Netflix Have A Branding Problem?

James Cooper
4 min readJan 7, 2022

The answer right now is clearly no. Netflix is riding high. It is omnipotent. But that could potentially be a problem in the future.

As Benedict Evans points out Netflix is no longer a tech company. Their tech works, the platform, the streaming bandwith, the algorithm — all of the plumbing has been expertly laid, they are unassailable on that front. They are now an old-fashioned TV company. In that they live or die on the quality of their content, or how much they pay for that content.

Over the holidays I watched Don’t Look Up, The Hand of God and The Lost Daughter. A typical criticism of Netflix is that they don’t really do great films — it’s mostly original series, re-runs and documentaries. And this is just for adults — we’ll get into the kids content in a mo.

Don’t Look Up is a bona fide blockbuster. Di Caprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchet and Meryl Streep— Meryl Fucking Streep. All directed by Adam Mckay. That’s about as Hollywood A List as it gets. Any studio would move heaven and earth for that lineup. It premiered globally on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure how many views it has, but it’s A LOT. Is it any good? Yeah, it’s a load of fun. Some great performances — as you would expect. It’s not a ‘Made for TV’ film.

What a line.

The Hand of God is the latest movie from Italian writer and director, Paolo Sorrentino. He made the epic film, The Great Beauty, a film about Rome which does exactly what is says on the tin. It is the great beauty of film. He also made Youth and the Young Pope. I didn’t finish the Young Pope but Youth is excellent. He’s basically Fellini, so for him to do his latest big production on Netflix is a big deal. Is it any good? Of course. The casting is superb, every frame seems perfectly considered. It brings to life Naples (Napoli) in the 80’s with a colour and style that no other director comes close to. The title is about Diego Maradona who played for Napoli then, but it’s about family not football.

And The Lost Daughter is Olivia Coleman’s latest big movie, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhall. Again this is movie royalty who can do whatever they want with whoever. They chose Netflix. And again it’s a great film, really interesting story, great characters and directing. Coleman is clearly on another level. The Lost Daughter is showing at Cinemas too. I would love to know the figures around the relationship between the cinema and watching at home. My personal feeling is given the choice — especially right now with Covid — I would choose to watch at home. I go to the Cinema to see ‘big’ films that are not streaming or won’t be for some time — or just something like Dune that needs a BIG screen.

So three great movies. Three original movies. And three movies that are very different in style; comedy, period foreign language and contemporary drama.

To have all three be as good as they are shows that someone is doing something right. And that’s just for the grown ups. My two kids think Netflix is TV. In the same way that some people think Facebook is the internet. Or was.

The only competitor to Netflix is Disney +.

This is where is gets potentially interesting. Can Netflix as a brand, survive as just Netflix? If I love movies by Paolo Sorrentino how do I feel about them being made by the same company that kids devour for Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol? (And you can be certain that Netflix will soon have their own kids hit). Disney + has Marvel, Disney, Nat Geo (The new Will Smith Nat Geo show is good) so there is some differentiation there. I can be a Marvel stan and not be too fussed that Frozen is also made by Disney.

So, do we get to a place where we need Netflix Kids? Or Netflix Drama? Or Netflix Culture? Or something that lives underneath the Netflix brand? The Culture Channel on Netflix. And if we do, do I still pay for the whole thing?

In the UK the BBC is a good analogue. We have loads of different BBC TV channels. BBC1,2,3 and so on. You sort of instinctively know what is on each channel rather than it being descriptive. Radio is a little more descriptive — with BBC Radio Five Live and Six Music. These get shortened to 6 Music. Would that work for Netflix? Maybe it’s NDrama, NXDrama or the equivalent?

These are not tech questions. These are good old fashioned brand and content questions. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out over the next few years.