Cult director Robert Rodriguez made a TV series out of vampire-busting classic From Dusk Till Dawn. Now he's taking it overseas, tapping Netflix (NFLX 1.93%) to make it happen.
But there's a big downside for many Rodriguez fans, which becomes a rare error of judgment from Netflix's normally razor-sharp content acquisition team.
Netflix got an exclusive license for From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series -- but only for overseas territories. Back home in America, there's no Netflix license for the series and you'll just have to subscribe to Rodriguez's El Rey Network if you want to see it.
That's obviously a big problem for cord-cutters like yours truly, giving us no way to enjoy this vampire-slayer series online. But it gets worse: El Rey is a very new network, launched in December 2013. It isn't widely distributed yet, available on just a few cable TV networks and only one of the two major satellite services.
For Rodriguez, keeping Netflix out of the domestic mix gives El Rey an exclusive status on the series. It's an attempt to raise awareness of his new cable network and perhaps win a few more distribution deals -- if enough Dusk Till Dawn fans beg their cable providers for a glimpse.
Jesse Garcia as ranger Freddie Gonzalez. Source: El Rey Network.
For Netflix, it's another exclusive series with a limited market. These things happen all the time, but this is a rather unique split between domestic and international territories.
I mean, the series is officially known as From Dusk Till Dawn: A Netflix Original Series in Europe, Canada, and Latin America. In the American home market, half the title doesn't even apply because Netflix doesn't own any rights to the series.
Why is that a problem?
Netflix is all about simplicity. The company bends over backward to keep its service no-brainer-easy to use. That's why you don't see any third-party advertising on Netflix sites, no options to buy or rent the content Netflix couldn't license for subscription streaming, and I dare you to find a subscription service that makes unsubscribing (and rejoining!) easier than Netflix does.
This is a crucial difference between super-simple Netflix and the less clear-cut Amazon.com (AMZN 1.75%) Prime service, for example. Search Netflix for a title and you'll only see results that apply to your current subscription plan: DVD or streaming. On Amazon Prime, you'll drown in options to watch for free, rent via pay-per-view, buy a digital copy, or order a retail DVD.
Amazon's streaming service is set up to drive sales of higher-margin versions of the same content. With Amazon being an e-commerce veteran, you have to expect that kind of attitude, and I'm sure it's good for the company's margins.
But it also diminishes Amazon Prime's video content to a simple marketing tool rather than a value-creating service in its own right. Again, that's fine and dandy when you also have a straight-up retail operation to support, but this model would never work for Netflix.
What's good for Jeff Bezos' goose is most certainly not good for Reed Hastings' gander. And yet, Netflix is sort of ripping the wrong page from Amazon's playbook here.
Letting Rodriguez and El Rey split off domestic Dusk rights is an unnecessary distraction for American customers, who are left wondering when this show will become available to Netflix viewers here. The answer is "Not in the foreseeable future" and perhaps even "Never," depending on how El Rey decides to handle previous seasons once the first run is complete. And that's a needless distraction, a complication of Netflix's catalog that doesn't make sense in the company's super-simple overall philosophy.
It's a nice win for Robert Rodriguez, who gets to kill two birds with one wooden stake -- strong international distribution and a marketing push for El Rey Network. For Netflix, anything that helps international growth is a plus, but I hope the company landed some really sweet financial terms for this critically restricted license.
Let's call it a Netflix mulligan. Nobody's perfect, and perhaps the pull of snagging international horror-action-comedy fans outweighed the desire to stay simple this time. And Netflix can still make up for the confusion by signing a secondary deal with the usual one-year delay after each season ends.
But I would hate to see this become a pattern, both as a clarity-loving Netflix customer and as an investor with expectations of the company sticking to its guns.