Let’s revisit 2021’s Netflix Playbook 2.0, shall we?
In the above forecast, I laid out a three-phased projection for the streaming giant, timed to Josh Simon’s hire as VP of Consumer Products. The forecast revolved around Netflix’s eventual transition from a straightforward streaming platform to a brand with tangible, immersive physical experiences akin to Disney. After reading the recent Bloomberg article on Netflix’s physical retail plans, it’s clear several of these projections have come to pass. From Netflix Playbook 2.0:
Simon’s hire is as directional as it is functional. Earlier in the new VP of Consumer Product’s career, he spent time working at Nike. But it was his six years working for Walt Disney Studios and Blumhouse’s live experience business that will shape Netflix’s brand and audience strategy for consumer products. He’s tasked with “identifying and building plans across different lines of business in consumer products” according to a 2020 article by Variety.
Phase One: Original Brand Retail. In 2021, I speculated that Netflix’s endeavor into direct-to-consumer retail signaled more than just a commerce push. Their Shopify build was a clear indication of a strategic shift, targeting a younger, more vibrant demographic. The recent Bloomberg article notes that Netflix has hosted pop-up experiences around the globe, emphasizing its brand merchandising focus. Their earlier foray into licensing its popular show Stranger Things was a precursor to this broader retail approach. It showcased the latent potential of leveraging their vast intellectual property, which they’re now unlocking more systematically.
Phase Two: Live Events and Activations. I had pinpointed Netflix’s move towards live events, recognizing the crucial steps it had taken with the Stranger Things drive-thru experience in LA. This prediction was based on its demonstrated potential in creating a bridge between its digital content and physical events. Fast forward and this is no longer mere speculation. Netflix has introduced 40 pop-up fan experiences in 20 cities worldwide, as stated by Bloomberg. And according to PYMNTS:
Fans may find themselves enjoying a meal at a “Stranger Things” themed restaurant or tackling a “Squid Game” obstacle course. These experiences aim to enhance the overall enjoyment and create lasting memories.
Events such as The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience emphasize Netflix’s active efforts to foster fan engagement through live activations.
Phase Three: The Netflix Universe. The most substantial realization of our earlier forecast was the solidifying of the Netflix Universe with a focus on retail. The forecast suggested that Netflix would transcend digital bounds and create physical locations for fans to engage with. Bloomberg confirms this with “Netflix House”. These permanent venues are set to offer a medley of retail, dining, and live experiences, echoing Netflix’s ambition to emulate companies like Disney in creating tangible worlds for its fans. Netflix’s strategy of transforming digital success into physical reality is now fully in motion. Their move aligns with earlier forecasts made about the company transitioning into a multi-faceted entertainment company, not just a content creator. As speculated, Netflix is tapping into its rich array of intellectual property to promote its brand, build communities, and enhance its marketing game. As was stated in 2021:
If the streaming giant proves that IP-fueled merch can sell, so might brick and mortar retail, pop-up experiences, and amusements. Don’t be surprised if Netflix’s digital experiments precede its venture into physical retail, events, and a permanent home for its beloved original properties. It’s created franchises that are valuable.
Netflix has proven that IP-fueled merch is a viable product for the company. Josh Simon’s words in the 2023 article confirms as such: “We’ve seen how much fans love to immerse themselves in the world of our movies and TV shows, and we’ve been thinking a lot about how we take that to the next level.” This sentiment was the crux of my thesis, emphasizing Netflix’s long-term strategy to evolve and grow in response to the changing media landscape.
The trajectory that Netflix is on was entirely predictable. The signs were there: its continuous push to innovate, its venture into DTC retail, its exploration of live fan experiences, and the quest to build tangible connections with its audience. Perhaps one day soon, this moonshot will also come to fruition: “It is unlikely that Netflix will ever find it suitable to acquire 25,000 acres of land like Disney before it, or even 415 acres like Universal Studios. But in nearly every metropolitan region in America, there is a dying mall – one that bustled in the era depicted by Stranger Things‘ fictional Starcourt Mall.” Netflix is just a few iterations short of taking over an entire mall and redeveloping into a single, national hub for its many retail and experiential tests.
As we move forward, it’ll be fascinating to watch this streaming titan continue to redefine its place in the global entertainment industry, morphing from a digital-first entity to a holistic cultural phenomenon.
By Web Smith | Editor: Hilary Milnes with art by Alex Remy and Christina Williams