Is Cheating Worth the Trouble?

What happens when you disrupt a disruptor? Or try to?

Netflix came into my life during my college and early professional years, and it was more revolutionary than Facebook. In the early days of MySpace, who was in your Top Eight was a subject of intrigue and speculation. Before Game of Thrones, middle and high school students competed for the coveted Top Eight slot. But with Netflix, who shared your account was an even more prestigious honor. Couples declared their level of commitment not through rings or moving in, but by sharing a Netflix account. Roommates who were mere acquaintances became inseparable lifelong comrades through a shared account. It rebuilt communities of young, broke millennials who were all plodding on the same avocado-strewn path together.

Of course, it was not always bliss. Sometimes scrolling through the seemingly endless titles felt like a Sisyphean task. You’d come close to picking something, but there would always be an objection from someone else in the room. “I don’t like dark comedies.” “I’m not watching another movie from the DC universe.”

And then the price went up to fifteen dollars a month, and the bonds of our friendships were truly tested. I mean, there’s love, but is it worth fifteen dollars a month? Is the licensing really worth that much? Who is Netflix to just yank titles away every month? As we got older and got better-paying jobs, we started asking more questions.

Since 2014, a competitor has been inching into the foreground. Now it has announced its presence with splashy ads, suggesting the consumer has already separated from Netflix through a torrid affair. Tubi, a free, ad-supported streaming service, has thrown the gauntlet and declared itself a direct competitor with Netflix.

This is a bold, one could say exaggerated claim for a couple of reasons. First of all, the most obvious Netflix competitors in the streaming space are Hulu and Amazon Prime. Second, this claim is based on a huge assumption: that consumers are willing to sit through ads to stream content. Tubi’s executives are a little more humble than their ads, saying that these ad-supported video on demand services (AVOD) are a “supplement” to existing streaming. It’s a little confusing to the casual observer. If you’re happy with what you have, why do you need a supplement? When do you determine a supplement is necessary? Because a billboard said so?

So, keeping the metaphor going, is Tubi supposed to be a side piece, or are consumers supposed to be polyamorous, having multiple partners but remaining serious with their “primary?” This a message that falls squarely on the marketer’s shoulders. TV isn’t a new technology, and we don’t need tutorials to know how it works, even if it’s coming across the internet. So if you’re going to stake your claim that Netflix and Hulu are old news, what are you offering in return? Ads are annoying. I’ve been happily paying Spotify $9.99 a month so I never have to hear an ad from them again. Tubi may be underestimating consumers’ willingness to pay to protect themselves from ads that use AI to target them. No one likes to feel like a sitting duck.

Relationships are dynamic and fluid. And brands that were integral to my life at 18 may not be the same at 30. (Note: I currently do not have a Netflix account.) Competition is on the whole a good thing, and it’s admirable that Tubi is trying to elbow its way in. But they might need to take a different approach than offering ads, which can often drown out the admittedly very good content they are trying to sell.

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