A study from brand marketing consulting firm Anatomy Media shows that young Americans can't tell, and don't care about, the TV network behind their favorite shows -- with one huge exception.
The study asked 1,100 Americans, aged 18 to 26, to match network brands to TV shows. Content from the Big Four traditional TV networks were correctly matched about one-third of the time. Streaming hopefuls Hulu and Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) fared even worse. But identifying Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) shows turned out to be easy work -- these millennials got original Netflix content right two-thirds of the time.
Compare this result with the smartphone market. There, the average consumer could point out the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone in a lineup of the usual suspects but struggle to identify various Android brands. This makes Netflix the Apple of TV networks -- the premium gold-standard option -- leaving everybody else to battle for a distant second-place finish.
How did we get here?
That's right -- young people have taken Netflix Originals to heart while largely forgetting about the broadcast networks. With a brand-recognition score double that of any on-air alternative, Netflix's marketing team has clearly done a fantastic job of building brand awareness.
This makes sense when you think about the modern media experience. How often do you pick up the TV remote, click-click-click, and now you're watching your favorite sitcom or crime drama live on the air? A lot of people prefer to program their DVR-equipped cable box ahead of time and then watch later, at their leisure. The network logo watermarks at the corner of your screen are easily ignored, and the memory of setting up the recorder is quick to fade. So the network brand is not as sticky as it used to be.
That's not how you consume shows from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Here, you fire up the appropriate streaming app first and then watch your favorite shows anytime you like. The recording step is removed from this equation. If anything, I would expect these three streaming networks to get a lot of false positives from Anatomy Media's survey responders as third-party content available there gets associated with the app and not the producer.
Why are Hulu and Amazon falling so far behind?
So this report held no surprises regarding the battle between over-the-air networks and streaming media newcomers. But Hulu and Amazon fared a lot worse than Netflix, which might give those two networks pause.
Anatomy Media noted that streaming services lack a natural consumer connection over traditional TV channels, forcing their brand promotion and service marketing efforts to pull the entire branding weight.
"Without a strong foundation of brand relevance among young millennials, Amazon and Hulu are going to find it challenging to achieve their ambitions," the report said.
Stopping short of recommending any fixes to that problem, Anatomy Media did point out a few specific branding blunders. "Unlike Netflix, neither Amazon nor Hulu has established a consistent design with regard to how the ownership of their programming is reflected in thumbnails," for example. "Netflix is once again a leader. All of their original content is consistently bugged with the Netflix logo in the top left corner."
Netflix could still do better
The report wasn't all wine and roses for Netflix.
The company puts a ton of effort into its recommendation system. This survey also asked where viewers found what to watch next, and recommendations from the streaming service were nowhere near the top results. Only 12% of survey respondents reported using in-app recommendations as a primary way to find new things to watch, far behind word of mouth at 37% and social-media news feeds, 21%.
On the upside, this vindicates Netflix's large investments in creating specialized content that appeals to every possible niche, with award-winning production quality. That's how you build positive word-of-mouth rapport, and it's working. But the on-screen recommendations system doesn't seem to be pulling its weight.
In all, Netflix is doing a lot of things right. Amazon and Hulu could learn some important branding lessons from the streaming leader, but there's always room for improvement even at the top of the market.