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Netflix 2023 Upfront Takeaways: Streamer Hits Scripted Drama Hard When TV Cannot

The upfront presentation that looks most like traditional TV came from a company that likes to tell investors, advertisers and consumers how it’s leapfrogging that entire business.

Netflix on Wednesday showed dozens of scripted series and movies that could support advertising — if only Madison Avenue would take a chance and bet on its nascent efforts to sell commercials. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Chris Hemsworth and Julia Roberts were only some of the actors whose efforts could be tied to advertising. Counterparts like NBCUniversal and Fox Corp. were hard-pressed to do the same earlier this week.

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“We are just getting started,” said Peter Naylor, vice president of global advertising sales at Netflix.

The streaming giant tried to articulate its advertising plan, which media buyers say remains in its infancy and is not likely to generate the millions of consumer impressions that big advertisers need to make cash registers ring — at least not in the near term. Executives, for the most part, didn’t push back on that notion. Instead, they told viewers of a streamed presentation — the company scuttled a live event it had planned to hold at New York City’s Paris Theater — that they ought to invest in their future by striking deals with Netflix now.

Read some of the key takeaways from the presentation below:

What writers strike?

Netflix has taken a lot of rhetorical fire in the early days of the Hollywood writers strike. The company’s model-changing business, which doles out a smaller cycle of episodes per program, is viewed as one of the biggest reasons writers are having a harder time making ends meet in a digital world. Indeed, one of the causes of the company’s abrupt decision to cancel its New York event was a looming protest outside by a WGA-organized group. The conflict never came up as Netflix ran a seemingly endless series of clips from scripted programs like “Bridgerton,” “Stranger Things” and “Extraction 2.” The company even featured an interview with creators Anthony and Joseph Russo, who currently have a series out with Amazon Prime Video, but also have highly anticipated work in the pipeline with Netflix.

Global customers

One of the knocks on the Netflix ad-supported tier is that it reaches only 1 million subscribers in the U.S. — and maybe less. On Wednesday, however, Netflix told viewers that it had 5 million subscribers around the world who had opted to watch ads, an enticing statistic if a marketer has a commercial idea that is applicable to consumers from around the world in a single time frame. Most do not.

Something very old, and something very new.

Ted Sarandos, the company’s co-CEO, told advertisers that Netflix had already changed the way people watch TV and video, and suggested Netflix would help them do the same with commercials. The executive described one ad format, for example, that would be akin to “a 30 minute commercial” that “plays out over several days” and follows subscribers as they watch different shows on the service. “This isn’t going to happen overnight, and maybe not even next year,” he said. “It’s just one idea.” But he also said he hoped Netflix could pioneer a Madison Avenue breakthrough like putting an ad before a movie that a consumer watches on DVDs or VHS tapes –perhaps one of the most annoying commercial formats ever designed.

Cause and ‘effect’

Executives played upon the phenomenon known as “The Netflix Effect” time and again during their presentation, enticing marketers with the idea that Netflix has been instrumental in creating new moments and trends in popular culture — and could do the same for them. Netflix staffers played up what the service had done for songs from Kate Bush and Lady Gaga, the concept of binge-watching and even the “Skip Intro” button.

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