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📺 Netflix may need to un-differentiate itself

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What this means for you: The same great Hustle stories, just easier on the eyes.

In today’s email:

  • Netflix: Why ads may be on the (distant) horizon.
  • Feature: The guy who quit med school to become an NBA ref.
  • Kickstarter: How a fantasy author smashed its crowdsourcing record.
  • Around the web: Routines for the exhausted, remote islands, fashionable ducks, and more cool internet finds.

🎧 On the go? Listen to today’s podcast to hear Zack, Rob, and Mark debate whether Netflix should sell ads, why Mike Tyson can’t sell his ear-shaped weed gummies in Colorado, drone deliveries in Dallas, and more.

The big idea
Netflix, sponsored

Should Netflix sell ads?

Raise your hand if you subscribed to Netflix for DVD rentals. Anyone?

Netflix’s infamous subscription model differentiated it from Blockbuster — may it rest in peace — and the company’s leap of faith to streaming differentiated it among media firms.

Now, amid slowing growth and ruthless competition, analysts believe Netflix may need to un-differentiate itself, and that a world with ads on Netflix might make sense.

Let’s step back

Netflix’s historically massive YoY subscriber growth has slowed, and hasn’t eclipsed the 20% mark since Q4 2020. Why? Per Stratechery:

  • The pandemic pulled growth forward and Netflix neared North American market saturation (75m subs among 132m households).
  • Over the same time, competition heated up across Disney+, HBO Max, Paramount+, Amazon Prime Video, and Peacock.

Despite this, Netflix has a strong business. “We were about a $20B revenue business 2 years ago… we’re $30B revenue now,” the company’s CFO, Spencer Neumann, said last month.

So why the need for ads?

True, there are other ways Netflix can grow revenue, including:

  • Raising prices, which the company has regularly done over time.
  • Gaming, which Netflix has prioritized, buying 3 gaming studios in the last 7 months.
  • Password policing, which the company tested, and could yield $1.6B annually.

But these options have downsides. Raising prices can drive churn, it’s unclear if Netflix and gaming are a fit, and password policing will piss off half of America.

Or, there are ads…

… which Netflix is not entirely opposed to. “It’s not like we have religion against advertising,” Neumann said recently.

Many other streaming services offer ad-supported plans at lower price points, and they’re growing fast. Analysts have also said that an adless Netflix is missing out on $9B in potential revenue.

An ad-supported Netflix tier would offer price-sensitive subscribers a low-cost alternative, and if done right, the user experience wouldn’t take much of a hit. Take TikTok, for example, where ads themselves are TikToks, and sometimes go viral as a result.

Of course, hiring and building for an ad network would be a big shift — but Netflix is no stranger to pivots. Remember, once upon a time the company mailed out DVDs.

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  • Higher rates are coming: Fed Governor, Lael Brainard and San Francisco Fed President, Mary Daly said they expect interest rates to continue rising in order to fight inflation. Both the Dow and Nasdaq dropped on the news.
  • Wario’s board seat: Twitter said it would appoint Elon Musk to its board after he became the company’s largest shareholder. Will his 1st move be implementing an ‘edit’ button?
  • Well, that was Fast. Online checkout startup Fast — last valued at ~$580m — is closing its doors after pulling in just a 6-figure revenue in 2021.
  • EVen more EVs: Hertz will purchase 65k electric vehicles from Polestar, following the company’s order of 100k vehicles from Tesla.
  • It’s a bird… It’s a plane… Nope, it’s Alphabet’s Wing division kicking off a drone delivery service in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on April 7, starting with Walgreens’ health and wellness products.
  • Alternative index: Yahoo Finance launched indices for collectibles to track the value of things like trading cards, cars, and comic books.
  • Safety first: In a volatile world, personal safety startups can help put the power and the pepper spray back in women’s hands. Check out some of the startups making security devices more accessible for women.

Feature Story
Suyash Mehta

Zachary Crockett

The guy who quit med school to become an NBA ref

One day in 2013, Suyash Mehta was approached by a mysterious man.

Mehta, then a 22-year-old pre-med student, had just finished refereeing a high school basketball game in Maryland. It was a part-time gig to help pay for college — a step on the path to becoming a doctor.

But he was about to hear 3 words that would change his life.

“He came up to me and said, ‘You’ve been identified,’” recalls Mehta. “It was like something out of The Matrix.”

Mehta later learned that this mysterious man was an NBA referee scout. The encounter would set him off on a bizarre, 7-year career pivot.

Although NBA refs enjoy financial upsides — full-time salaries start at ~$200k — the job can be thankless and extremely high-pressure.

Why would anyone, nonetheless an aspiring doctor, want to pursue this career path? What does it take to make the cut as a pro? And what does the lifestyle entail?

This is the unlikely journey of one newly minted NBA ref.

Read the full story →
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Step 3: Keep an eye on your inbox. On Fri., April 15th we’ll be notifying the 12 lucky winners via email. 👀️

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For official Marketing Against the Grain Contest rules, click here.

Funders & Dragons
fantasy novels

How fantasy novels blew away Kickstarter’s record

A fantasy author just smashed Kickstarter’s record for most-funded project at $41.7m+ from 185k+ backers.

For reference, the previous record was $20.3m for a smartwatch in 2015, per CNBC.

Meet Brandon Sanderson…

… an accomplished sci-fi/fantasy author who wrote 4 new novels during the pandemic. He told fans he’d completed the manuscripts via his Kickstarter, which essentially served as a pre-order.

Depending on donation level, backers get them as e-books, audio books, and/or printed novels quarterly through 2023.

Margot Atwell, Kickstarter’s former head of publishing, attributes Sanderson’s success to:

  • A good campaign, with a compelling video, appealing rewards, and a clear timeline for when backers will receive them.
  • Trust in Sanderson. He’s got a passionate fan base and is well-known in his genre. He finished Robert Jordan’s fantasy epic Wheel of Time (now an Amazon TV series) after the author’s death in 2007.
  • Algorithms and internet hype. Projects can blow up on Kickstarter as backers sign on and share, causing the platform to recommend the project to others.

Plus, fandoms are moneymakers

Several of Kickstarter’s top projects are for genre work:

  • Fantasy board game “Frosthaven” raised $12.9m+ in 2020, the most successful game on Kickstarter
  • Horror board game “Kingdom Death: Monster” raised $12.3m+ in 2017
  • “Dungeons & Dragons” web series “Critical Role” raised $11.3m+ in 2019 to make an animated special. (Amazon later picked up the series.)

Kickstarter told The Hustle that, in 2021, sci-fi/fantasy projects represented ~30% of all publishing projects on the platform, bringing in ~$9m.

Of course, Sanderson’s project will blow that figure out of the water for 2022.

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🏋️ On this day: In 1896, the 1st modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, 1.5k years after Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned them.

🥱 How to: It’s hard to establish a routine when you’re struggling to get out of bed. Here are some tips for building healthy habits, even if you’re exhausted.

📷 That’s cool: Check out the winners of Smithsonian magazine’s 19th annual photo contest.

🏝️ That’s interesting: Researchers share new insights into what the Marquesas Islands, one of the world’s most remote archipelagos, were like before humans discovered them.

🦆 Aww: For 30+ years, Sydney has hosted the Pied Piper Duck Show, a fashion show for ducks.

Meme of the day
Netflix meme

Truly the only kind of marathon I’m interested in. (Source: Screen Rant)


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dinner with Sam Parr

Well, well. Look who climbed the ladder. We’re so proud.

You seem like the kind of person who knows how to work a network. Your beast-like qualities have granted you an opportunity to bag The Hustle’s grand prize.

Get {1000 – referral_count} more referrals and you’ve got yourself a meeting with Sam Parr, founder of The Hustle. You might recognize him from the My First Million podcast. He loves that you love his good ol’ newsletter, and wants to treat you.

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You’re just {1000 – referral_count} referrals away. The final boss awaits.

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Today’s email was brought to you by Jacob Cohen, Juliet Bennett Rylah, Rob Litterst.
Editing by: Jennifer “C’mon, Netflix, ads are not chill” Wang.

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