Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) just added two seats to its board of directors. Board appointments barely register as news most of the time, but this announcement is different. I'm actually downright excited about one of Netflix's new strategy stewards.
The new names in the Netflix boardroom come from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS). If that top-shelf pedigree doesn't rouse your interest, let me explain how Netflix obviously handpicked its new leaders for maximum business impact. Netflix just expanded its board from seven members to nine.
Brad Smith, Microsoft's top legal eagle
From Microsoft comes longtime general counsel Brad Smith. He has been the top legal mind in Redmond since 2002, so brings a unique wealth of relevant expertise in business law.
Microsoft might not always use its legal firepower for a good cause, but there's no denying that Smith has seen more courtroom action than most of his industry peers. And he is separated from Microsoft biggest legal defeat, having joined the company two years after the landmark United States v. Microsoft antitrust decision.
So Smith provides an immediate upgrade to Netflix's legal team. He jumped aboard as the only board member with a JD degree, since Netflix's own general counsel, David Hyman, doesn't hold a board seat. This legal expertise will become more important as the company attempts to navigate the seven seas and five continents, creating a completely global service by the end of 2016.
Anne Sweeney, keeper of Disney's digital vision
As useful as Smith will be to the global Netflix vision, he's not the name that makes me want to tap dance on my desk. That honor belongs to Anne Sweeney, who recently retired from a three-decade career at Disney to pursue TV directing.
Having been the co-chair of Disney's media networks division and president of the Disney/ABC television group, Sweeney obviously knows the entertainment industry inside and out. If Netflix content guru Ted Sarandos ever needs a helping hand, Sweeney will know exactly what to do, who to call, and where to lunch when you want to make waves in Hollywood.
Before joining Disney, Sweeney helped Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB) build Nickelodeon into a global brand. International expansion runs deep in this boardroom update.
But we haven't even gotten to the part that makes me giggle with glee as a Netflix shareholder. Here it is: Anne Sweeney gets digital entertainment. She's forgotten more than you ever knew about instant media delivery, the correct way to fight piracy, and squeezing value out of digital distribution licenses.
I've been a fan of Sweeney's thinking for nearly a decade. Other forces inside Disney didn't always let her realize a vision of frictionless delivery across multiple channels, and her anti-piracy tactics -- beat the pirates in the open market like you would any other competitor -- are a tough sell to traditional media leaders.
But Netflix is a perfect fit for Sweeney's unconventional strategies. "Piracy continues to be one of our biggest competitors," Netflix recently said in its fourth-quarter earnings report. In the very next paragraph, the company added that "It couldn't be a more exciting time in our industry!"
These two statements would generate oodles of friction in many media businesses, but they are just a clear-eyed look at market realities for Netflix. Though I can't speak for Sweeney, I imagine she agrees with all of the above.
Brad Smith is also a great talent from a very suitable background, but is more of a nuts-and-bolts play. Sweeney brings vision and adrenaline to the Netflix boardroom.
Taken together, I'm beyond excited to see the difference they can make for Netflix.