Netflix is in the midst of a reset, expanding its content purview and its core business model in ways that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. At the same time, the company is facing new pressure, with subscriber growth stalled and competition that is catching up quickly.
That is the background that undergirds Netflix’s “readjustment of the business,” to quote Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings in a June 23 memo to staffers.
The company laid off 300 employees that day, which in turn followed a trimming of 150 in May. Earlier this year Netflix also cut some employees and contractors at its Tudum editorial outlet.
But critically, Hastings added in his memo that the cuts would soon give way to growth.
“[A]s we cut back in some areas, we also continue to invest significant amounts in our content and people: over the next 18 months, our employee base is planned to grow by ~1.5K to ~11.5K,” Hastings wrote.
In other words, Netflix will end 2023 with significantly more employees than it has right now. But with more than 10,000 employees already working on content, marketing and technology (the company says it had 11,300 employees at the end of 2021, before the layoffs or employee attrition reduced that total), where it’s hiring may signal how the company sees its future .
One area in which Netflix has been vocal about its investment is international expansion. The company is the only true global streaming service, available in almost every country in the world (the two big exceptions are mainland China, and as of earlier this year, Russia).
In its Q1 2022 letter to shareholders, Ted Sarandos and Hastings outlined their thinking on the matter:
“Over the longer term, much of our growth will come from outside the US,” the letter reads. “Traditionally, US entertainment companies have viewed ‘international’ as an export market for US content. But we saw long ago that great stories can be made anywhere and loved everywhere — dramatically broadening the pool of creators with whom we can work, increasing the variety of our programming and better serving local tastes.
“To support this, we’ve been building out capabilities like creative development, personalization, and language presentation/localization,” it goes on to say. “Netflix is now producing films and TV in more than 50 countries with a high degree of integration in the local entertainment ecosystem resulting in the creation of blockbusters from every region.”
In other words, when it comes to adding subscribers, it is elsewhere in the world where the real opportunity lies. If subscriber growth has matured in North America, reallocating staffing to other parts of the world makes strategic sense.
But the company’s expansion isn’t just geographically. It is also in the midst of building out new areas of its core business.
To that end, Netflix’s foray into video games remains nascent.
The company has acquired three small games studios — Texas-based Boss Fight Studios, California-based Night School Studio and Finland’s Next Games — and executives have said that other M&A opportunities in the space could follow.
Thus far it has only released a handful of mobile games, and has suggested that games for other platforms (like the TV glass) are coming. According to a review of the company’s open job listings, it has a few dozen open roles on the games side of the business, including jobs in “live services,” which would support multiplayer games that could be broader in scope than the current offerings ( think Fortnite or Fall Guys).
As Netflix’s gaming ambitions grow, so will its headcount in that area.
And, of course, Netflix is set to expand its business model significantly when it introduces an advertising-supported tier, expected later this year.
But while Netflix has plenty of available jobs in gaming, there are none tied to advertising … at least not yet.
Instead, Netflix appears to be trying to find a third-party partner to help it launch its ad product, with the goal, ultimately, of bringing it in-house. And such an addition would not be a small matter. If it does ultimately build out its own offering, it will require teams of technologists (to build the stack and any programmatic platforms required to deliver ads), creatives (to develop name formats that the consumer will ultimately see) and of course sales teams that will actually cut the major deals that supplement any automated ad buying. Companies like Roku built these teams out over the course of years, and Netflix would likely need a similar runway, though a third-party deal could bridge that gap.
“What we’ll do first is not representative of what the product will be ultimately. Start light, keep it simple and iterate fast,” Sarandos said at the Cannes Lions marketing festival June 23, adding that “what I want our product to be is better than TV [advertising]”
Netflix has held talks with companies like Comcast (which could provide its FreeWheel ad tech stack and NBCUniversal’s ad sales capabilities), digital video ad giants Roku and Google, and ad tech behemoth The Trade Desk as it seeks to figure out what company could help it enter the ad world quickly and seamlessly.
Whichever company (or companies) it partners with could impact what roles it hires for internally as it plans out its push into ads, but it’s reasonable to assume that it will be staffing up in the space in the months ahead.