Do it like Netflix: how to create content in the streaming era

streaming era

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Try to scan through an entertainment site without stumbling over an article about the Streaming Era. Spoiler alert: It’s impossible.

As we move from owning content to accessing it, streaming becomes the new normal.

Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are the usual suspects. But Sky, Apple, Facebook, and even Disney have tasted the sweet sugar of streaming. They are building their own channels.

Hunting for your eyeballs, battling for your brain’s attention.

And despite knocking down classic TV channels, the onslaught of streaming services also change our consumption style. We demand the content tailored to us, whenever and wherever we want. This is a challenge AND opportunity for content creators who not only want to survive but thrive.

Below, I want to reveal the lessons from streaming you can apply to your content strategy.

Serialization in the streaming era

Netflix popularized binging — watching multiple episodes of a series in rapid succession.

Similarly, successful authors urge writing newcomers to write a series and release each part as soon as possible, ensuring binge-ability.

The reasons are simple: content shock. When you produce a piece of content (an episode, a book) that your target audience loves, you want to release the sequel as soon as possible. Because in today’s age, the audience forgets quickly.

I know stories from fellow indie authors who launched a successful book. But because they didn’t follow up fast enough, their sequel flopped. The author took too much time and the readers moved on.

Serialization also works for non-fiction books. Instead of releasing a comprehensive tome on a topic, many authors now publish short 20K-40K word books. These ‘novellas’ focus on one aspect of the topic.

If you take storytelling advice as an example, you can each publish a short book on dialogue writing, characterization, theme development and plotting.

This serialization of content can net you more money and make marketing more affordable. You can only spend your ad money on promoting your first piece. If it satisfies your target audience, they’ll check out the rest of your series.

Be addicted to data. And then change your content.

The folks at Netflix are obsessed with A/B, heck, C/D/E/F/G testing their show thumbnails to up their streaming numbers. They experiment with colors, the number of people featured on a thumbnail, the type of characters, the size of their heads, abstract alternatives, different title positions etc.

It gets crazier.

They’ve learned that putting villains on thumbnails for kids and action shows lead to better responses. Apparently, heroes didn’t elicit the same strong emotions from Netflix members.

You probably don’t have the same capacities as the streaming giant, but you can still use data to adapt your content creation.

With the help of Google analytics, you can check what kind of posts perform best and when. You can find out what kind of posts get the most shares.

If you sell digital products and services, you can set a budget for your Facebook campaigns and check which ad design and text combo elicits more engagement. Be the little man’s Netflix.

As for me, I’ve just asked a small section of my readers to choose between various covers for my next book. The experiment lead to new insights.

If you have access to data, use it to adapt your content strategy.

Short and daily delivery

Netflix’s content budget for 2018 is expected to near the $13,000,000,000 mark. Yep, thirteen billion. That monstrous budget allows the streaming giant to air 700+ shows this year, signaling: there’s new stuff coming out every single day. Come back. Again and again.

Two content creators I obsessively follow have a similar strategy even though their budget is in the single zeroes.

streaming era anske

Ksenia Anske

Ksenia Anske self-publishes dark fantasy books online. She also runs a successful Patreon account where she publishes daily writing advice for her supporters.

The posts are usually short, sometimes in video form, and often concentrate on one topic. So whenever supporters return to her Patreon page, they find a new digestive snippet, ready to be consumed on the fly.

Another great example is Carson Reeves who is an LA-based screenplay consultant. He publishes Hollywood screenwriting advice on his site to lure in potential customers who’re interested in getting their scripts reviewed.

Carson not only publishes daily — he also adheres to a themed schedule.

Monday is typically a screenplay-centric breakdown of the latest big movie. Tuesday he extracts 10 screenwriting tips from a well-known movie. On Wednesday, he reviews a feature script or a television pilot. He releases an opinion article on Thursday and reviews an amateur script from his community on Friday.

Carson’s tight programming conditions his audience like Maslow’s dog.

Bell rings, the dog salivates. Carson publishes, the readers engage.

As soon as a new article is released, you’ll see a lively community discussion growing to 150-200 comments per post.

More importantly, Carson’s daily commitment to producing specific content turned him into a full-time script consultant. Woof woof.

Conclusion

Serialization of your content and digital products, data-driven A/B/C testing and short & daily content production can help you thrive in the streaming age.

It can also lead to burnout, but that’s content for another post.

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at www.marsdorian.com and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

Original illustration by the author. Photo: Ksenia Anske.

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