‘Anti-Netflix’ Scheme: Why It’s a PR Error

The much talked-about arrival of Netflix in France heralds what many already perceive as a potential revolution, but while the service Netflix offers is appealing, it will be far from unprecedented when it arrives on French soil in September. Canal+, VideoFutur, Orange and also Numericable have been working double-time to keep from being overwhelmed by the California giant.

Initiatives that Nevertheless Suffer PR-wise from Being Labeled as ‘Anti-Netflix’


What exactly is Netflix? It’s an on-demand video service, allowing for viewing a great number of shows for a fee of about 8 euros a month. If the freshness of the film catalog sometimes leaves a bit to be desired — given that a 36-month delay must be observed between the release of a film in theaters and its availability on the streaming platform — Netflix makes up for it with television series, and for good reason: It just so happens that they create some themselves. “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” are thus labeled “homemade.”

However, even in this flagship market opportunity, Netflix is far from flawless. With the exception of the series it cooks up itself — enjoyable without being masterpieces — the service offers mostly leftovers: “Bones,” “X-Files,” “CSI,” etc. In short, while the catalog is sizable, it often suffers from an inability to meet the demand of Internet users thirsty for new things.

You can see that the success of Netflix is not a foregone conclusion, especially since its roll-out in France shouldn’t be a walk in the park. Spurred by its imminent arrival, the opposition is organizing itself. Orange has begun the fight with a variation on Google Chromecast called Orangecast — it had to be invented. Roughly, it’s an HDMI thumb drive, including TV channels and the VOD for Orange Cinéma Series (OCS), a thumb drive you’re invited to plug into your TV.

As for Canal+, it’s fighting back by redoubling its efforts in anticipation of the Netflix surge. It should be noted, however, that for several weeks, the PR around the company’s offer of SVOD has been going strong. It’s called CanalPlay, and it has already gathered 500,000 subscribers and has some 9,000 shows, including more than 6,000 series episodes. The encrypted channel has signed an agreement with HBO to broadcast its series, like “Game of Thrones,” “Girls,” etc.

The cable operator Numericable will also put forward an attractive offer for series addicts. Starting in September, its affiliate Altice will launch a platform dedicated to streaming series based on the catalog of its Numericable box — “code name of the operation: Series-flix,” explains the Journal de Dimanche. Focusing on the series part is pretty shrewd, since the operator doesn’t need to respect the 36-month delay reserved for films and should therefore be in a position to offer exclusives to its clients.

The link between VideoFutur and Netflix is clear. Like its American big brother, VideoFutur started as a DVD rental company before turning to content in streaming VOD. The comparison stops there, however. With a catalog of scarcely 500 films and only a handful of series, VideoFutur shouldn’t be much of an obstacle for Netflix.

On the same note, let’s also mention the initiatives of the outsiders Vodkaster, FilmoTV, UniversCine or even Jook Video, whose offers aren’t necessarily unappealing, but suffer from the modesty of their means in a hypercompetitive market.

The emergence of a plethora of alternatives to Netflix isn’t due simply to the will power of private operators trying not to let themselves be replaced by the Californian company. It also fits with a political gamble that Minister of Culture Aurelie Filippetti supports, the framework of a veritable anti-Netflix scheme that does not mention names, aimed especially at “promoting and developing the excellence of French operators in the domain of video on demand (VOD and SVOD).”

While it’s appropriate to not stand by helplessly during this charge coming from the United States, all the same, we have the right to ask if this public outcry orchestrated by the government won’t prove to be counterproductive. By stressing the necessity of offering a strong response to Netflix, the minister is underlining the “strike force” of the offer of the Los Gatos company and is guaranteeing it an advertising goldmine.

Standing against the Netflix offensive, the French VOD services must not be passive. While the reactions it has brought about are uneven, some are making out rather well. PR-wise, our Frenchies could have done without the intervention of the government, on the other hand.

Simply having allowed them to continue to communicate closely with the public about their new offers would have kept the offers from having been perceived as counterattacks, and wouldn’t have made Netflix the de facto yardstick or model to which French people compare everything — a “model” that furthermore, as we have seen, often leaves a lot to be desired.

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