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Netflix's Secret Ingredient for Growth Kicks In Today

By Rick Munarriz - May 11, 2016 at 8:41AM

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Tonight's debut of "Chelsea" offers a shot at increased subscriber retention for the leading premium-streaming service.

Image source: Netflix.

There's something fresh on Netflix (NFLX 3.29%) today, and unlike most of the new shows that launch on the world's leading premium video service, this isn't the kind of content you can binge-watch. Chelsea -- a new series starring E!'s former nighttime talk-show host Chelsea Handler -- premiered this morning. New shows will make their debut every week on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. 

This is Netflix's first foray into the suddenly crowded "late night" niche. It's an important step. Chelsea goes against the mold that the dot-com darling pioneered with Lillyhammer four years ago. Offering serialized dramas and more recently full-length features arms Netflix with a digital catalog of content that is somewhat timeless. Handler's new show offers perspectives on more topical themes. The trailer has her discussing the election with beachgoers and then whacking a pinata bearing the likeness of Donald Trump. It's the kind of content that will be magnetic today, but will folks be interested in watching Handler skewer Trump and Hillary Clinton in pre-election mode come 2018?

It's a gamble. It's content with a shelf life. It's also brilliant. 

Time Warner's (TWX) HBO is all about Game of Thrones these days, but what's to stop millennials from cancelling their subscriptions at the end of June, when the sixth season ends? Time Warner's biggest show on HBO runs for just three months of year. What is there to keep subscribers put through the other nine months? It's a fair bet that Last Week Tonight With John Oliver is HBO's most important show after Game of Thrones.

Time Warner knows that it can count on a viral hit form time to time through Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and that's with the vast majority of the country not subscribing to HBO. The chances are pretty good that Chelsea will follow suit. It has three times as many shows a week to land a viral clip. The show is also making its debut across 190 different countries. It will not only reach Netflix's 81.5 million total subscribers, but it will also wiggle its way into the news feeds and casual conversations of the friends of those 81.5 million streaming accounts. 

The steady trickle of timely content is new ammo in Netflix's arsenal. If Chelsea is a hit, it makes it that much harder to cancel the service. There is no cancellation window if you're a fan. Someone that's only a Netflix member for House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black can flip the switch off when they're done binge watching the new season. It's different this time.

Netflix has a shot to score on social media when Handler proves provocative -- and that's often the case -- and a better way to keep churn in check with a "late night" show that's available on its subscribers' terms. This is a big day for Netflix and its shareholders. They just don't realize it yet.  

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