Netflix, the streaming service, is entering the awkward teenage years, at least with its latest programming push.
It is adding a number of exclusive films and television series focused on tweens and teenagers to its slate in the coming months as part of a strategy to position itself as a digital entertainment hub for the postmillennial generation.
Netflix has licensed two films from popular YouTube personalities, including “Smosh: The Movie” from the creators of the YouTube comedy channel of the same name that has more than 21 million YouTube subscribers, and “Bad Night” featuring YouTube stars Jenn McAllister and Lauren Luthringshausen.
It also has picked up “Lost & Found Music Studios,” a half-hour original series about a group of young musicians, “Degrassi: Next Class” about homophobia, racism, substance abuse and other issues teenagers face as they prepare to enter adulthood, and “Fuller House,” the much-anticipated sequel to the 1990s hit sitcom “Full House.”
Netflix is trying to fill a void that exists across the media market, Eric Barmack, Netflix’s vice president of global independent content, said in an interview recently. He said that while a number of traditional and digital outlets offer programming that appeals to younger children and young adults, scripted entertainment focused on teenagers is scarce.
“In the on-demand world, there isn’t a place where there is lots of great scripted shows and movies that are catering to that audience,” Barmack said. “That is both an opportunity and a challenge.”
With the new titles, Netflix enters a fierce popularity contest to take over that programming space, as startups and traditional media companies, like YouNow, Snapchat, YouTube, MTV and Disney try to win over viewers who are growing up in a digital streaming world.
The challenge is to capture the attention of an audience known for its elusive and fickle tastes. Celebrities and trends often are fleeting, and it is unclear whether a star’s popularity on an outlet like YouTube will translate to other outlets like television or film.
Traditional media organizations have faced stark challenges keeping pace with the fast-shifting habits of young viewers. As tweens and teenagers spend an surging amount of time on apps and the Web, the amount of time they are spending watching traditional television is plummeting. MTV, long considered the hot spot for teenagers, suffered a 17 percent decline in ratings in the second quarter of this year compared with a year earlier, according to analysts’ estimates.
“It is a transformation of media,” said David B. Pakman, a venture capitalist at Venrock who studies the media habits of teenagers in attempts to predict broader industry trends. “I am convinced very few people really understand it.”
Creating a hub for teenagers fits into Netflix’s quest to build a personalized service that offers something for everyone. “Our goal is to have content that is as broad as the human experience,” Barmack said.
Netflix has nearly 63 million global subscribers, though it does not break them down by age group. It is pouring billions of dollars into television and film content, devoting more of its investment to original series, documentaries and feature films.
Netflix and other online outlets have made a push to acquire and develop their own original commercial-free children’s series, which is an important draw for parents. Appealing to teenagers also is important, both to groom future generations of subscribers and to keep their parents subscribing. About a quarter of parents of 7- to 17-year-olds said their children’s opinion “counts a lot” when they are deciding on digital subscriptions for services like Netflix, Spotify and Hulu, according to a recent Cassandra Report about that age group, described by some as Generation Z.
With its new lineup of movies and series that focus on teenagers, Netflix is trying to offer “a little bit of everything” to its viewers worldwide, Barmack said. To market the new titles, Netflix will rely on its personalization engine to recommend series and films to the people who are most likely to enjoy them.
Netflix has offered today’s teenagers the chance to discover series like “Gilmore Girls,” “Gossip Girl” and “Friends” that appealed to past generations of teenagers.
Barmack said Netflix was not discouraged by the lackluster reviews for “Smosh: The Movie,” about the Smosh comedy duo invading YouTube to try to delete an embarrassing video before a high-school crush sees it, and “Bad Night,” where two characters are mistaken for art thieves. “We want shows or movies that a particular demographic is going to love,” he said. “It is not a one-size-fits-all thing.”