A lesson from Netflix by way of SNL: Quit while you’re behind

By Rob Bratskeir

One of Saturday Night Live’s sharpest jabs in recent memory never even made it to air last weekend.  (Lorne, anybody home?)  The bit featured Jason Sudekis deftly sending up Reed Hastings’s now infamous mea culpa, alongside a perfect Fred Armisen aping that other Netflix (um, Qwikster) guy.  Lucky for us SNL’s dress rehearsals are taped.  Watch the bit, then talk amongst yourselves.  And thank 360’s own Caitlin McNamara for the clip.

Plenty of water cooler-able stuff there.  But what got me most wasn’t any one line, but the duo’s compulsion to keep apologizing: once, twice, thrice.  It’s exactly where the real Reed went off the rails.  He didn’t know how to quit when behind.   After all the talk of corporate hubris, price gouging and flanker brands  – after all the prognosticating over why Netflix did it, and what still may be up their bright red sleeves — I simply fail to understand what went through Hastings’s mind in choosing to broadcast himself, when he had exactly zero to offer in restitution.  We probably would have settled for straight talk.  By then, many believed the price hike on DVDs was taken to subsidize the company’s high-growth, but higher-cost streaming future. Done. Move on.

Hastings’s timing was equally puzzling.  Just as the negative chatter over the original price hike announcement was waning, there he was dousing the embers with gas. Would you ever advise a client to “go twice” with the same bad news?  It leaves me convinced Hastings convened a meeting of one in hatching the plan and pulling the trigger.

There is a more troubling scenario – troubling for those who do what we do for a living.  Suppose Hastings did actually seek the counsel of someone he deeply trusted, and whose advice he would have taken.  What if that person, sensing Hastings’s enthusiasm for the idea, just bit their tongue and nodded yes.  It wouldn’t be my recco, but the guy’s had a lousy couple of weeks.  Maybe this will get him past it.  People love Reed, so yeah, maybe be can sell it.  Still…

OK, maybe a little out there.  Still, I’ll take it as a cautionary tale, and pledge to pull no punches when the stakes are highest — no matter who’s on the receiving end of our counsel.