Netflix to test free weekend-long access in India

Netflix plans to give users in India access to its service at no charge for a weekend as part of a test to expand its reach in the country, a top company executive said Tuesday.

The American streaming giant, which reported slow users growth for the quarter that ended in September, recently stopped offering a first-month complimentary access to new users in the U.S. But the company plans to keep experimenting with new ways to lure potential customers, said Greg Peters, COO and Chief Product Officer at Netflix on the company’s earnings call.

One of those new ways is giving away access to Netflix at no charge to customers for a weekend in different markets, he said. The company has picked India as the first market where it will test this idea and “will see how that goes,” from there, he said.

“We think that giving away everyone in a country access to Netflix for free for a weekend could be a great way to expose a bunch of new people to the amazing stories that we have, the service and how it works … and hopefully get a bunch of those folks to sign up,” he said.

This won’t be the first time Netflix uses India as a test bed to explore new ideas. The company first flirted with the idea of a $2.7 mobile-only monthly plan in New Delhi before introducing it as a permanent tier in the country last year and then nearly a dozen markets. It has since tested even more pricing plans in the country.

India emerged as the largest open battleground for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms searching for their next billion users in the past decade. Amazon, Google, Apple, Spotify and several other firms offer a range of their services at a much lower price in India.

More to follow…

Here’s why Netflix shares are off after reporting earnings

Shares of consumer video service Netflix are down sharply after the bell today, following the company’s Q3 earnings report.

Why is Netflix suddenly worth about 5% less than before? A mixed earnings report, a disappointing new paying customer number, and slightly slack guidance appear to be the answer.

The numbers

Heading into the third quarter, Netflix told investors that they should expect it to generate revenues of $6.33 billion, operating income of $1.25 billion, and net income of around $954 million, worth about $2.09 in earnings per share.

Today, Netflix reported $6.44 billion in revenue, operating income of $1.32 billion, along with $1.74 in per-share profit off of net income of $790 million.

Netflix bested its revenue goals, but fell short on profitability.

The company also managed to best analyst revenue expectations of $6.38 billion, while missing out on analyst per-share profit expectations of $2.13.

Adding to the pain, Netflix also missed expectations on new customer adds. In its Q2 earnings, Netflix said that it “forecast[ed] 2.5m paid net adds for Q3’20 vs. 6.8m in the prior year quarter,” because its “strong first half performance likely pulled forward some demand from the second half of the year.”

Today Netflix reported just 2.2 million customer adds, missing its own targets and sharply missing analyst expectations of around 3.3 million for the period (some analyst counts had an even higher guess).

Looking ahead, Netflix says that in Q4 it expects revenues of $6.57 billion, operating income of $885 million, $615 million in net income, earnings per share of $1.35, and 6.0 million new paid customers in the period. The street had been looking for $6.58 billion in top line, and just $0.94 in per-share profit, so it’s hard to parse which part of the forecast is driving more investor sentiment.

Regardless, today’s earnings report will not move Netflix’s share price too far from its recent, all-time highs. The company may take a ding from its profit miss, but nothing material.

Netflix user growth slows as production ramps up again

After the COVID-19 pandemic drove impressive subscriber growth earlier this year, Netflix’s numbers have come back down to Earth.

The streaming service added 15.77 million net new subscribers in the first quarter of the year, followed by 10.09 million in Q2. It only projected 2.5 million for Q3.

Today’s earnings report shows the company falling short of that already underwhelming goal, with only 2.2 million net additions, bringing its total subscriber base to 195 million. And it’s forecasting 6.0 million net additions in Q4, compared to 8.8 million in the same period last year.

“As we have highlighted in our recent investor letters, we believe our record first half paid net additions would result in slower growth in the back half of this year,” the company said in its letter to shareholders. “If we achieve our forecast, it will put us at a record 34m paid net adds for 2020, well above our prior annual high of 28.6m in 2018.”

The company also said that “retention remains healthy and engagement per member household was up solidly year over year.”

While the pandemic may have accelerated Netflix’s user growth, it also halted film production for safety reasons. That’s meant a slowing release schedule — though the delay is less noticeable for Netflix, as it had so many shows and movies in the pipeline.

With production resuming, the company said it’s actually completed principal photography on more than 50 productions since mid-March, with plans to do the same for 150 additional productions by the end of the year.

The fourth season of “Stranger Things​,” the second season of “The Witcher” and action film ​”Red Notice”​ (starring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds) have all resumed production as well.

The announcement includes viewership numbers for a handful of shows and movies released in the last quarter: 43 million subscribers chose to watch the new season of “The Umbrella Academy,” 48 million chose to watch “Ratched,” 38 million chose to watch “The Social Dilemma” and 78 million chose to watch the Charlize Theron action movie “The Old Guard.” (Reminder: Netflix’s “chose to watch” metric refers to the number of subscribers who watched at least two minutes of a program.)

Update: Co-CEO Ted Sarandos discussed the current state of production during the investor interview, where he said the company is “nearly fully operational in most parts of the world.” He predicted that the service will be able to release its planned 2021 slate on schedule, with just a few delays and “minor exceptions.”

And although Netflix has also had to halt production on some shows due to positive COVID tests, Sarandos said that should be expected: “The art of it is how quickly and safely can you reopen.”

Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes

Disney announced earlier this month that it’s going all-in on streaming media.

As part of this new strategy, the company is undergoing a major reorganisation of its media and entertainment business that will focus on developing productions that will debut on its streaming and broadcast services.

This will include merging the company’s media businesses, ads and distribution, and Disney+ divisions so that they’ll now operate under the same business unit.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber reports, Disney’s announcement follows a significant change to its release schedule to address new realities, including a collapsing theatrical release business; production issues; and the runaway success of its Disney+ streaming service — all caused or accelerated by the national failure to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what better time than now to give Disney+ the Extra Crunch user experience teardown treatment. With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed. They include zero distractions while signing up, “the power of percentages,” and the importance of designing for trackpad, mouse and touch outside of native applications.

Zero distractions while signing up

If the user is trying to complete a very specific task — such as making a payment — don’t distract them. They’re experiencing event-driven behaviour.

The win: Disney have almost entirely removed any kind of distractions when signing up. This includes the header and footer. They want you to stay on-task.

Image Credits: Disney+

Steve O’Hear: This seems like a very easy win but one we don’t see as often as perhaps we should. Am I right that most sign-up flows aren’t this distraction-free and why do you think that is?

Peter Ramsey: Yeah, it’s such an easy win. Sometimes you see sign-up screens that have Google Adwords on it, and I think, “You’re risking the user getting distracted and leaving for what, half a penny?” If I had to guess why more companies don’t utilise this technique, it’s probably just because they don’t want to deal with the technical hassle of hiding a bunch of elements.

The power of percentages

Only use percentages when it makes sense. 80% off sounds like a lot, but 3% doesn’t. Percentages can be a great way of making a discount seem larger than it actually is, but sometimes it can have the reverse effect. This is because people are generally bad at accurately estimating discounts. “What’s 13% off £78?”

The fail: If you sign up to a year of Disney+, then you’re offered 16% free. But 16% isn’t easy to calculate in your head — so people guess. And sometimes, their guesses may be less than the actual value of the discount.

The fix: In this instance, it would be far more compelling (and require less mental arithmetic), if it was marketed as “60 days free.” Sixty days is both easy to understand and easy to assign value to.

Image Credits: Disney+

Percentages may be harder to process or evaluate in isolation as an end user but they are easy to compare with each other i.e., we all know 25% off is better than 10% off. Aren’t you advocating obscuring the actual saving in favour of what sounds better on a case-by-case basis and therefore actually working against the end user? Of course I’m playing devils advocate a little here.

So, it’s actually a really complex dilemma, and there’s no “easy” answer — this would probably make a great dinner time conversation. Yes, if you’re offering two discounts, then a percentage may be the easiest way for people to compare them.

Original Content podcast: It’s hard to resist the silliness of ‘Emily in Paris’

“Emily in Paris,” a new series on Netflix, has provoked skeptical responses from actual Parisians who are happy to point out the abundant clichés in its story of a young American (played by Lily Collins) who takes a last-minute transfer to a marketing agency in Paris.

Some fairly obvious culture clash moments ensue, along with equally implausible storylines where Emily’s extremely basic ideas about social media are treated as controversial and groundbreaking by her employer.

And yet, as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we actually found the show delightful — or at the very least, highly watchable.

Yes, the show’s Paris is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that we’re happy to visit, particularly now. Yes, most of the show’s characters are basically cartoons, but they’re entertaining and fun cartoons. And at the end of the day, we’re all suckers for a slick, escapist romantic comedy, which is exactly what “Emily in Paris” delivers.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:31 “Emily in Paris” review
30:43 “Emily in Paris” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is thoroughly mediocre

There’s nothing excessively bad about “Enola Holmes,” a new film about Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister Enola. But there’s nothing particularly good, either.

The film was originally planned for a theatrical release from Warner Bros., but Netflix picked it up earlier this year, after the pandemic shuttered theaters around the world.

“Enola Holmes” stars Millie Bobby Brown as titular adolescent detective, along with Henry Cavill as Sherlock, and they’re both … fine? Neither of them seems to be phoning it in, and Cavill is downright charming at times. And although Brown has admitted that she struggled to reacquire her English accent, she brings plenty of energy to her role, which includes plenty of fourth-wall-breaking monologues that fill the audience in on backstory and explain the solutions to not-particularly-puzzling mysteries.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the film seems competent in virtually every respect, but thoroughly inspired, leaving us underwhelmed by the results — Anthony to the point where he was pacing around the room and wondering about his life choices. But hey, maybe kids will enjoy watching it?

In addition to reviewing the movie, we also discuss Netflix’s recent discussion to cancel “Glow” and “Teenage Bounty Hunters.”

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:37 “Away” listener response
4:04 “Glow”/”Teenage Bounty Hunters” discussion
12:43 “Enola Holmes” review
29:17: “Enola Holmes” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Away’ deftly balances space exploration and human drama

“Away,” a new drama on Netflix, tells the story of the first manned expedition to Mars — Emma Green (played by Hilary Swank) leads an international team of astronauts on the three-year mission, while her husband Matt (Josh Charles) is part of the support team back on Earth.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show starts a bit slowly, and its space sequences (particularly an early space walk) aren’t quite as thrilling as we’d hoped.

But “Away” excels at creating compelling human drama — there’s believable tension on the spaceship and in mission control, and pain and guilt on both sides as the astronauts are separated from their loved ones for the long journey to-and-from Mars.

Anthony admitted that before watching, he worried that the show might be a bit too weepy and melodramatic. Instead, he was impressed by the way it made all the storylines feel natural and important, no matter how high or low the stakes. And we also appreciated how the astronauts’ backstories are filled in via flashbacks — the third episode, focused on Chinese astronaut Lu Wang (Vivian Lu), was an early highlight.

In addition to reviewing “Away,” we also caught up on what we’ve been up to since the last regular episode two weeks ago, and we discussed a new Disney+ co-watching feature called GroupWatch.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/catch-up
5:55 Disney+ discussion
9:19 “Away” review
41:41 “Away” spoiler discussion

Investors give Baltimore’s Facet Wealth $25 million to sell businesses on financial planning as a benefit

Yesterday, Baltimore-based fintech company Facet Wealth said it raised $25 million in financing as it readies a new business line pitching financial planning as an employment benefit to businesses looking to recruit top talent.

Employment benefit packages are expanding beyond the basic gym membership and healthcare to include subscriptions to Netflix, discounts on delivery and ride-share services, and other perks. So why not financial wellness?

The thesis certainly managed to attract a big-money backer, with Warburg Pincus, the multi-billion dollar private equity investment firm which doubled down on its commitment with the new financing into the company.

The company said the latest round would be used to finance the expansion of Facet Wealth’s direct-to-consumer business even as it readies its employee benefit service for launch.

Already customers are signing up for pre-launch partnerships to get their employees on the program. Early wannabe users include ClassPass, MyVest and ChiliPiper, the company said.

“Since our first investment two years ago, the Facet Wealth team has proven their ability to meet a unique consumer need, evolving and expanding their offering to build a truly innovative client experience and business model”, said Jeff Stein, Managing Director at Warburg Pincus. “Their expansion into the employer market further solidifies them as a category-defining company that is well-positioned to disrupt the wealth management industry for years to come.”

To date, Facet Wealth has raised $62 million in funding from Warburg Pincus, Slow Ventures and other, undisclosed investors.

The new Chromecast adds a remote and the new Google TV interface for $49

It’s been a while since Google gave its Chromecast line a proper bit of love — perhaps not surprising for a fairly mature device now marking its seventh year. At today’s big Launch Night In event, however, the company’s bringing the popular TV dongle a much-needed refresh by way of Chromecast with Google TV.

The new version of the streaming product looks pretty similar to its predecessor, though the perfectly circular shape has been stretched out in something more oblong, dangling off the end of an HDMI cable. The biggest change from a hardware standpoint is the addition of — reportedly — the product’s most requested features: a remote.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Long and slim (perfect for wedging between the couch cushions), the remote features a navigation wheel surrounding a selection button up top and devoted buttons for YouTube and Hulu. There’s also a Google Assistant button and a microphone flanked by the power and input buttons, which allows for voice control. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries, included in the box.

The other big addition here is Google TV. I’ve detailed the offering here, but the short version of it is that it’s a new interface from the company designed to offer a more streamlined viewing experience. It pulls together into a single spot movies, TV shows and live television programming — similar to what you get with something like Fire TV and Apple TV.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new dongle can support 4K HDR video at rates up to 60 frames a second. It also supports Dolby Vision, the company’s image optimization format. The system supports 6,500 apps and live and on-demand TV from 85 networks, as well as key streaming services like Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix and, of course, YouTube. Peacock support is on the way — as is support for Google’s Stadia gaming offering, which is set to arrive in the first half of next year.

The dongle is available for sale in the U.S. starting today, priced at $50. Customers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the U.K. can pre-order it today, as well.

Coinbase UX teardown: 5 fails and how to fix them

Digital currency exchange Coinbase has probably done more than most to push cryptocurrencies closer to the mainstream, earning an $8 billion valuation by private investors along the way. The company is reportedly eyeing a public listing next year, and is inarguably doing a lot of things right. However, that doesn’t mean its product experience is perfect. In fact, far from it.

In our latest UX teardown, with the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of Coinbase’s biggest user experience failings and offer ways to fix them. Many of these lessons can be applied to other existing digital products or ones you are currently building, including the need to avoid the “Get Started” trap, the importance of providing feedback, why familiarity often wins and other principles.

The ‘Get Started’ trap

Only use CTAs like “get started” or “learn more” if you’re actually teaching users something.

The fail: Coinbase doesn’t actually have any onboarding — but it looks like it does. It has a very prominent “get started” CTA, which actually just puts bitcoins in your basket. This isn’t helping you get started, it’s nothing more than an onboarding Trojan horse.

The fix: It’s simple: Don’t lie in your CTAs. You wouldn’t have “Email Support” as a CTA, and then just show the user a bunch of FAQs.

Steve O’Hear: This feels like another classic “bait and switch” and reeks of dark pattern design. However, what if it actually works to get users over the line and purchase their first bitcoin? Growth hackers, rejoice, no?

Peter Ramsey: You’re absolutely right, this may convert better. From a business point of view, this could be a brilliant little growth hack. However, something converting well doesn’t mean it was a good experience for the user. Look at clickbait-y journalism — it gets more eyeballs, but people aren’t generally happy with what they read.

I’m convinced that in the long term having a great product will perform better than frustrating short-term growth hacks.

Feedback architecture

As a general rule of thumb, all “states” — e.g., success/failure of an action — need to provide feedback to the user.

The fail: After adding a card, you click “Add Card,” and … it takes you back to the homepage. There’s no notice if it was successful or not. The user has no awareness if the action they were trying to do failed and they need to do it again. This is a real problem with digital products: All feedback needs to be thought of and built.

The fix: During the design phase, consider statuses and what the user will want feedback on. For example, if they’ve just added an item to their “wishlist,” how will you show them that the action was successful?