• Gabriela Mazzarello

Netflix & Disney in 2020: The New Quality Standards of Entertainment

During COVID, media companies including Netflix and Disney had to stop producing as much content (Nielsen 2020). For example, Sang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings (whose director was self-isolating, waiting for results of a COVID test) or Stranger Things (Alexander 2020) to mention a few productions that saw the consequences of COVID at first hand.

A lot of people are staying at home, thus increasing the demand for new, high quality and more meaningful content and advertisement (Li and Zafar 2020). Both companies find the need of producing more content tailored to a generation that has a completely new perspective of reality, particularly during this period of uncertainty. A lot of informal, non-essential workers and low income individuals, are risk averse when it comes to spending and feel the need to cut their expenditures to the very essentials. Many of which are waiting to be called again for work, if they’re called again at all. It is important to mention that this is an important aspect for Netflix, as it offers a reasonable price (although with a propensity to increase in the short term future) for cord cutters, who are tired of paying above the price Netflix offers. Besides providing competitive pricing, both Netflix and Disney have produced clear efforts that attempt to attract a more culturally diverse audience.

Examples of this are Orange Is The New Black (Netflix) and Coco (Pixar & Disney) , to mention just two of the best well-known examples.

When people think of Netflix and Disney, they don’t necessarily think of the “quality” of their content nor the quantity, but rather their branding capacities. It is therefore easy to confuse what a strategy really is. A strategy, in the most plain of all definitions, is simply a plan of action to achieve a certain goal.

If Netflix’s goal is to produce one show per day, that is a clear strategy, although way too ambitious and risking to become an example of failure by the adoption of self-suicidal strategies. But if Disney's strategy is defined as “quality over quantity” then we can argue that Disney is lacking a strategy and a purpose to begin with. Neither ‘strategy’ can guarantee satisfying the audience's taste or reach to them whatsoever, whether it is through big data collection efforts such as Netflix, or a taste cultivating culture such as Disney’s by producing the traditional movie format rather than innovative formats such as Netflix.

Going beyond our class’ readings, which talked much about the competitive positions both companies have and the ocean-like market in which these two companies float out of reputation and successful branding. What is quality, really? Can quality or quantity be stated as a strategy? Or qualitative and simplistic factors that come in handy when branding a company? As people learn how to brand themselves on social media, from a first hand experience and compare themselves to companies and celebrities: having a cool photo, uploading interesting content, rating their content ‘success’ through likes, comments and reach, being consistent in the type of content, sharing and asking others to share. People are more and more exposed to being skeptical of the true meaning of “quality” --if a post is not liked by your circle of people, does it mean it is not a good quality post?-- and legitimacy of statements companies have held as “the only truth” because people did not have much access to diverse resources of information.

Quality is a subjective matter of taste (what is quality to you is not necessarily quality to me) and quantity is a subjective matter of reach (what reaches you doesn’t necessarily reach me, netflix reaches its subscribers and the people the subscriber chooses to share their experience and account with). Disney is not producing ‘quality over quantity’ just because it is not producing as much as netflix. To emphasize on this, what is quality anyways? Is quality determined by how many people have watched the content? The diversity of people who have watched it? The amount of awards received? The reviews it gets? Achieving a purpose or metric?

We can speak of the different ways, which are actually strategies to approach traditional quality metrics of success: Content-based focus, the richness and different layers the content has, so to have a movie or show that can be watched and re-watched by the present and future generations. The team’s professionalism, a team that is dedicated day and night and overtime to go over multiple times an idea and reach the deadline with the best they could have done with the resources at hand (and the ones that were not at hand, but reached so they could be at hand at all costs possible). The network, the famous “I just got lucky, I met the right people at the right time” statement, a network can get you precisely to where you wish to be, if you expose your ideas and strong commitment to them 360 degrees, in your routine.

It is time for companies to rethink their value offer and reconsider what quality content really is about. Throughout time, humans have been exposed to different quality measures that increase in complexity: back in the days, a good quality phone was simply one that can make and receive calls. Nowadays, a good quality phone is also one that can perform well with WiFi, good international cellular data coverage, supports a wide variety of apps, offers a wide range of accessible tech support, and even more recently: people also value whether it is made from socially responsible sources; including worker’s conditions and pay, waste management, portability, weight, online reviews, etc.

Just as the matter of quality has changed so much in the phone manufacturing industry in the last 20 years, people have reconsidered more and more factors before signing the contracts, making investments, supporting certain companies and their products, including cultural products and their footprint.

Some of the new aspects people look into when discussing the quality of a show or a movie is the social relevance of the company. Younger generations care about having minority groups as protagonists, the usage of real language in the script (like the inclusion of words such as “fuck”, which are still banned in public TV), the inclusivity among the production company and the releasing company such as inclusion riders (Dwyer 2018), the accessibility of the content (online). All in all, there’s much more to do and talk about in regards to what quality is in the contemporary context we live in than it is about the strategy to get to quality yet. If COVID can leave an important lesson to both companies nowadays, is that this is the time to reflect upon their role in society rather than saturating society with what they have done so far and the empty meaning of being just another competitive brand.