Comcast, Cablevision, Cox and ... Netflix?
Netflix has been careful to describe itself as a complement to cable distributors, but as it quietly tests network-branded pages in what appears to be an effort to give content partners more visibility, it risks positioning itself as a substitute for cable packages.
These pages, which Netflix is trying out with a few cable networks, let Netflix users browse shows by TV network. Viacom , the parent of MTV , Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, and Discovery Communications, whose networks include Animal Planet and TLC, appear to be the first companies testing these pages.
But finding the network-branded pages is not quite as easy as turning on a channel guide. If subscribers type the phrase "MTV " in the Netflix search bar they will be taken to a results page with a hyperlink that , when clicked, reveals a list of all MTV shows available to stream.
Netflix isn't touting these pages; in fact, it almost appears as though it is trying to hide them. When asked about the existence of these network hubs, Netflix said only: "We're always testing ways to make Netflix easier, simpler, better."
And while the pages are limited -- you won't find any for broadcasters CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox or cable networks such as AMC or Bravo -- if Netflix decides to expand the test and make it easier for consumers to find the branded pages, it will further cement the view that the streaming service is an over-the-top video solution of the ilk that leads to cord-cutting.
Executive Reed Hastings has been vocal about positioning the streaming service as a complement to cable packages (not a substitute), along the lines of an HBO Go.
If anything, Netflix seems to be trying to brand itself more as a cable network than a cable distributor, with reports surfacing this week that the company is in talks with some cable distributors to have its service delivered via set-top boxes. Netflix's growing TV library and its foray into original scripted content would place it on the same level as a TNT or TBS rather than a Time Warner Cable or Cablevision.
But creating a space for networks, comparable to video-on-demand functionality, would put Netflix in closer competition to a cable operator, said Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible.
Outside of this test , there's little presence for networks on Netflix. Take "Glee"—Fox isn't even mentioned on Netflix's page for the series, which reduces the network's ability to promote its brand or the rest of its lineup. This is becoming a main point of discussion between Netflix and networks, and something Viacom and Discovery look like they're working to fix.
Both companies include network icons in their artwork for TV shows, and there could be opportunities for this type of branding down the road. Viacom also uses a pre-roll ahead of some of its kids' shows with the Nickelodeon jingle.
"We continue to look for more ways to brand our content on Netflix. The brand is what funds the shows," said Denise Denson, exec VP-content distribution and marketing at Viacom Media Networks.