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Making A Hit: How Netflix Capitalized On The True-Crime Appetite As More Customers Cut Cable

By the end of the first episode you’re hooked. By the end of the second, you’re bewildered — the world is spinning and you can’t tell what’s up or down. By the end of the third episode, the world has stopped spinning — because you’re convinced it’s been jobbed by the Manitowoc County Police Department.

The Netflix prestige docuseries Making A Murderer has proven a hit. The streaming giant recently announced it would be doubling — you read that correctly — its original programming lineup for this year. They will leap from 16 to 31. If we judge based on their success with Making A Murderer, someone at Netflix is earning their paycheque.

But what are the circumstances that made Making A Murderer a cultural hit? Will any of their 31 new programs follow suit? At its best, Making A Murderer was masterfully rolled out to capitalize on the trends in the market. At worst, it is a niche program that found an audience who championed the show to a wider one in a very short span of time. I tend to think it falls directly in the middle (as most things do).

Since last year, the true crime genre has become the pretty girl at the party. Thanks in large part to the NPR podcast Serial, which became the binge-listening darling of the 2014 Holiday season, as well as to The Jynx, the HBO true crime doc that debut at the same time.

As the winter faded, there was a decided appetite for a new true-crime/injustice tale to remind audience that we hate the world. Because make no mistake: that is a major appeal of Making A Murderer. *Aside from other major factors, which includes the production value and the narrative design, which draws out the narrative as a procedural to emphasize the natural drama of the events — unlike The Jynx, which manipulated timelines to create drama.*

By contrast, The Jynx appealed to audiences because its topic, Robert Durst, belongs to the New York elite. Is family is one of the most powerful in New York City real estate. Making A Murderer, however, appeals because its topic is as average — lower class, really — as they come. We relate to his plight because we relate to the common man. We pull for the common man. When the common man is unfairly persecuted, we hate the world for treating them so.

The timing of Making A Murderer’s release was also extremely important. First was that it landed right at the beginning of the Holidays. That doesn’t need much explaining if you imagine what your average day’s schedule looked like.

As important is that more people are chord cutting than ever before. Like when the music industry collapsed as mp3’s circulated the web increasingly in the early 2000’s, content is no longer relegated to the theatre. It’s not even relegated to your television. It’s not even relegated to your computer. You can access your content on any device that has a screen. *Unlike the film industry, which has become a cruel landscape. A movie no longer has the benefit of a long theatre run to find an audience and build word-of-mouth. Even worse, try finding variety in the theatres around your city. The term ‘niche film’ no longer relates to the demo — it means its physical location. Also, note how many prestige films come out around the Holidays.*

Which means this: there has never been a better time for ambitious entertainment brands like Netflix to capitalize in short order on burgeoning trends.

If, come spring, a show/documentary/film/podcast about the culinary industry tips into pop culture at large, Netflix can produce it’s own ‘original content’ in short order. By the end of the year, it is available to watch at any moment on any device with a screen.

This concept of the screen is also important because it is interactive. Netflix’s design platform allows the audience to make choices, empowering them. Netflix then embeds a program into multiple lists. Thus the undeniably addictive habit of scanning the Netflix catalogue becomes a marketing weapon — of our own volition. *Do yourself a favor: sign in to Netlfix and scan through the lists. Making A Murderer is well-placed near the top of most, as are all of Netflix’s original programming. Netflix isn’t restricted in their marketing like cable, where network marketing can be ignored during the commercial break or otherwise forgotten when the program is running.*

This is a very smart company. Four years, you would have been well-served to have bought some shares. Making A Murderer is an example of how they are here to stay and will be at the forefront of the streaming evolution for the foreseeable future. They took a trend that was waiting to be capitalized on, they embedded it into their marketing design, and away they went.

Because s a producer for NBC's ‘Dateline’ says in footage from the series, "Right now, murder is hot... We're trying to beat out the other networks to get that perfect murder story."

Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb

Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.