Nimona Loss Leader

By | Tuesday, February 20, 2024 Leave a Comment
You're nominally familiar with Nimona, right? Like, even if you haven't read it or seen the film adaptation, it's garnered enough awards and critical attention that you've heard of it. It was ND Stevenson's college project that she later released as a webcomic which was picked up HarperCollins and published as a successful graphic novel that was adapted into an Audible audiobook that was adapted into an animated feature film first by Disney and later by Netflix. Commercially, it's about the best an indie comic creator could ask for.

Now, I had not seen the film adaptation until last night. It was originally released on Netflix, which I don't have a subscription to, but yesterday, they made the entire movie available for free via YouTube...
I'm not here to review the movie or how it measures up against the book -- there's plenty of other folks who've already done that -- but I'm interested here in the business decision behind releasing it. As far as I can tell, Nimona is the first feature length film that Neflix has put on YouTube. They've sometimes released single episodes of an ongoing show, but I can't find any other instances of a full film being made available. (There's nothing else coming up in a current search for "Netflix full film" at any rate.) The vast majority of what Netflix uses it's YouTube channel for is, not surprisingly, promotional material: mostly trailers, but also some blooper reels and behind-the-scenes pieces as well.

I think the reasoning behind not putting full films on YouTube should be pretty self-evident. As a business, they want you to pay for access to their streaming service and a streaming service's biggest draw is in the unqiue content they have. Why pay for Service B if it has all the same offerings as Service A? (I mean, they could theoretically also differentiate on price and/or service quality -- but they'd have to seriously undercut every other service to the point of not making a profit if they wanted to compete on price, and the service quality is more of an on/off issue here; it either streams in real time seamlessly or it doesn't.) So why would Netflix opt to offer one of their unique pieces of content up for free on another platform?

The basic concept behind the idea is that of a loss leader, where you offer up a significant offering for free -- understanding that you'll be taking a financial loss on it -- with the hope that it will be enough to entice some people to come back and pay for something else. Netflix is hoping that people see Nimona on YouTube and say, "Hey, this is really good! Maybe I should actually get a Netflix subscription to see what else they've got." It's honestly not far removed from the basic webcomic model where the comic itself is available for free, but readers might pay extra for earlier access or behind-the-scenes extras, or maybe they buy a printed copy of the story or a t-shirt or something. Netflix has, as I noted earlier, done variations of this before by offering up some first episodes of their ongoing series. But why now with a full film?

I suspect that is tied to awards season. On Saturday, they held the 51st Annie Awards, celebrating excellence in film and TV animation. Nimona was nominated in nine categories and won two of them, which puts it in the same company as Pixar's Up. Given that highly favorable critical response and that Netflix seems to be aiming for getting an Academy Award for "Best Animated Feature" (also like Up) the broader release of the movie is likely an attempt to garner some additional attention/buzz around it. Instead of taking out costly ads in trade magazines (or perhaps, in addition to them -- I don't read movie industry trades) they're opting for raising awareness more organically by trying to get people (like me!) talking about it. Maybe this will be something someone with actual voting power reads and they give the movie a little more attention than they otherwise would. Or maybe the easy/free access gives them the chance to revisit the movie and put it more top-of-mind than the others they might not have seen since the Cannes Film Festival last May.

Will it work? Either to get more subscribers to Netflix or to garner an Oscar? I certainly have no idea. On the former, they're also fighting subscribers leaving because of price hikes and on the latter, they're up against Studio Ghibli and Pixar among others. Regardless, Nimona is a thoroughly enjoyable movie and it's worth a watch on YouTube if you haven't seen it already.
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