Netflix has hinted that it hasn’t ruled out creating ‘vertical’ content specifically designed for watching on a mobile screen, with the platform’s founder and chief executive Reed Hastings revealing that “people are talking about it” and “maybe one day” it will look into it.
Snapchat really pushed content makers to consider the way they design for mobile, forcing brands and advertisers to think ‘vertical’ if they wanted people to watch their content on the small screen. Other platforms and publishers have followed suit – even YouTube to a point has optimised its app for content created on mobile – but streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have avoided it altogether.
“Some people are very classic in what they want, but I think screens today are just stunning and you can really see the depth [of the picture] right in front of you. And it’s portable. I would bet that [ in the future] mobile TV is going to be [the main way to watch content],” said Hastings during his keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The business seemingly set itself up for that shift late last year when it served up a download option for people who want to watch movies and TV on the go. While this obviously won’t spell the end for people watching on TVs, tablets and laptops, Hastings predicted that this – coupled with the vast improvements in screen quality – will mean watching predominantly on mobile will become the norm fairly soon.
“We want to be very flexible with so we can [put content] on any screen you have," he said. "We don’t design for mobile but there are people talking about that, with vertical video and things like that, and maybe we’ll look at it one day. We want to create stories that will work on any screen. The advances in screens we’re seeing on mobile are really supporting the innovation by Neftlix and others on the video style.”
Emphasising the point, Hastings admitted that much to The Crown-maker Peter Morgan’s disgust, he watched the entire series on a small screen.
Beyond mulling how it might integrate vertical video, the Netflix boss said that it’s working hard to keep up with other advancements in technology, without committing too much resource.
“What we do is try to learn and adapt, not just commit to one particular thing that going to happen,” he explained. “And if virtual reality takes off we’ll adapt to that, if it’s contact lenses that have amazing powers we’ll adapt to that. We’re very flexible and learn as we go.”
The main limitation it’s facing as it eyes such innovations, however, is the speed at which people can stream or download content.
“A number of companies are pioneering new ways of offering services to consumers where you can get unlimited video data but it’s limited by speed, which is very efficient to the networks,” said Hastings.
“What they’re trying to figure out is how to offer unlimited video on mobile without hitting a data wall, which is very compelling proposition for Netflix."
This trade off between unlimited ‘free’ data and the speed at which something can actually be streamed or downloaded has led to Netflix investing in ‘video coders’ who are slowly reducing the size-to-quality ratio.
“For half a megabit you can get incredible quality on a [mobile] screen,” he continued. “Now we’re down in some places to 300 kilobits and we’re hoping someday to get to 200 kilobits and still get and amazing picture. So, it will get more and more efficient to use an operator's bandwidth.”