Netflix targets teen market

Netflix has licensed a full-length feature film from YouTube duo, Smosh, featuring comedians Ian Hecox (above) and Anthony Padilla.
Netflix has licensed a full-length feature film from YouTube duo, Smosh, featuring comedians Ian Hecox (above) and Anthony Padilla.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Netflix, the streaming service, is entering the awkward teenage years, at least with its latest programming push.

It is adding a number of exclusive films and TV series focused on tweens and teenagers to its slate in the coming months as part of a strategy to position itself as a digital entertainment hub for the post- millennial generation.

Netflix has licensed two films from popular YouTube personalities, including Smosh: The Movie from the creators of the YouTube comedy channel of the same name that has more than 21 million YouTube subscribers, and Bad Night, featuring YouTube stars Jenn McAllister and Lauren Luthringshausen.

It also has picked up Lost & Found Music Studios, a half-hour original series about a group of young musicians, Degrassi: Next Class about homophobia, racism, substance abuse and other issues teenagers face as they prepare to enter adulthood; and Fuller House, the much-anticipated sequel to the 1990s hit sitcom Full House.

Mr Eric Barmack, Netflix's vice-president of global independent content, said it is trying to fill a void that exists across the media market. He said that while a number of traditional and digital outlets offer programming that appeals to younger children and young adults, scripted entertainment focused on teenagers is scarce.

Traditional media organisations have faced stark challenges keeping pace with the fast-shifting habits of young viewers. As tweens and teenagers spend a surging amount of time on apps and the Web, the amount of time they are spending watching traditional television is plummeting.

MTV, long considered the hot spot for teenagers, saw a 17 per cent decline in ratings in the second quarter of this year compared with a year earlier, according to analysts' estimates.

"It is a transformation of media," said Mr David B. Pakman, a venture capitalist at Venrock who studies the media habits of teenagers in attempts to predict broader industry trends. "I am convinced very few people really understand it."

Creating a hub for teenagers fits into Netflix's quest to build a personalised service that offers something for everyone. "Our goal is to have content that is as broad as the human experience," he said.

Netflix has nearly 63 million global subscribers, though it does not break them down by age group. It is pouring billions of dollars into television and film content, devoting more of its investment to original series, documentaries and feature films.

Netflix and other online outlets have made a push to acquire and develop original commercial-free children's series, which is an important draw for parents.

Appealing to teenagers is important, both to groom future generations of subscribers and to keep their parents subscribing.

About a quarter of parents of seven- to 17-year-olds said their children's opinion "counts a lot" when they are deciding on digital subscriptions for services including Netflix, Spotify and Hulu, according to a recent Cassandra Report about that age group, described by some as Generation Z.

With its new line-up of movies and series that focus on teenagers, Netflix is trying to offer "a little bit of everything" to its viewers worldwide, Mr Barmack said.

To market the new titles, Netflix will rely on its personalisation engine to recommend series and films to the people who are most likely to enjoy them.

Netflix has offered today's teenagers the chance to discover series like Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl and Friends that appealed to past generations of teenagers.

Mr Barmack said Netflix was not discouraged by the lacklustre reviews for Smosh: The Movie, about the Smosh comedy duo invading YouTube to try to delete an embarrassing video before a high-school crush sees it; and Bad Night, in which two characters are mistaken for art thieves.

"We want shows or movies that a particular demographic is going to love," he said. "It is not a one-size-fits-all thing."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Netflix targets teen market'. Print Edition | Subscribe