Netflix vs TikTok – entertainment customization, plural and singular audiences


We have reached the fourth appointment of this column, a space that we have decided to dedicate to the scenario of the world of communication that captures our attention, that fascinates and we are passionate about, that “lifts us” as the Funicular that we carry in the heart of our brand identity.

We talked about brand behaviors and consumer behaviors, and we saw how easily the two entities are superimposed. Today we focus on two brands in the entertainment industry that, moving in an antithetical but speculative way, have managed to get into people’s hearts – in particular managing to draw personalities capable of fitting in as a model for the two younger generations, Millenials and Gen Z.

On the one hand we have Netflix, the TV series and the binge-watching concept that has revolutionized the consumption of entertainment. We have the small/large screen of the house, the sofa, the partner (or the roommates) and the evening that spends leafing through a catalog that in Italy counts about 4000 titles.

On the other we have TikTok, formerly known as Musically, the social network that has finally gotten rid of real-life friends and in which only following and followers are counted. The channel of creators, short videos and ephemeral trends accessible exclusively from smartphones (and which is therefore enjoyed in solitude). The most downloaded entertainment app during lockdown, which has seen Italian users quadruple in the past 12 months.

Observing Netflix and TikTok you can observe the evolution of the concept of entertainment, which is becoming more and more liquid and disjointed, composed of hundreds of niches and staff. If Netflix is the evolution of TV, TikTok is the evolution of YouTube, even if never like today trying to distinguish and set boundaries to the entertainment universe is more and more an exhausting exercise as well as sterile. However, we can analyze their structure to understand how they approach this world.

Netflix focuses its positioning on the product – it puts into practice what is called a product driven strategy. Each new TV series is an event that brings with it a communication stunt, marketing campaigns dedicated to gathering different clusters of fans that become communities. In short, a pyramid that sees the brand at the top, followed by the products, and ends with the audience. Communities are the foundation and support the structure.

What about TikTok? The Chinese platform toppled the pyramid by leveraging its social network nature. Not being able to define itself as a publisher, it has put at the centre of its strategy the active users who are best at creating content. A creator driven strategy that relies on the talent of content producers to attract new users with a range of original and truly differentiating content from other platforms, whether social or entertainment.

Netflix, while representing its evolution, still responds to the classic logic of cinema and TV that wants a market analysis that precedes a production that must then respond to the test of the market of attention.

TikTok instead distributes its identity on the thousands of creators who give life to the platform, it’s a bet made on people: the creator is director, producer and protagonist, he cuts the curves and draws his artistic path in continuous listening to the follower base. Even more than the YouTuber, whose figure constitutes the evolution, the TikToker speaks in the singular and the conversation directly affects the personal sphere, where the emotional involvement of the user is stronger and the attention is total. In short, the famous phrase of the 20th Century Fox president Darryl Zanuck:

Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.

It turned out to be so wrong that seventy years after its prophecy the TV instead of disappearing has multiplied and the wooden box never stops transmitting content.

What can brands learn from this complex and constantly evolving scenario? Certainly an important lesson concerns the approach to be taken towards the target, and since we are talking about digital media, specifically, to its clustering.

If Netflix and the “traditional” contents show us that we can still be divided into homogeneous audience clusters by interests, the success of TikTok and the contents designed on personal behavior (so much so that they are labeled “for you”) reminds us that contemporary tagging cannot be limited to classic socio-demographic variables and that knowing the people behind the audience clusters becomes more and more fundamental.