Whether you’re streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or some other website, there are more ways than ever to view television. These streaming services have taken to creating their own programs, such Netflix’s House of Cards or Hulu’s Difficult People. And here’s a bonus: These critically-acclaimed shows actually double as content marketing for these companies.

Television has always been a medium focused on advertising and making money. In the early days, TV shows were fueled by a single sponsorship and these sponsors had a major say in what happened on the show. Now, the model has switched: original programming shows act as an advertisement for streaming services. These new streaming services are competing to create the best shows possible so that people will be willing to pay money to watch them.

Orange is The New Content Marketing

Netflix is arguably leading in original programming, offering award-winning shows available only through their streaming service. Shows such as Bojack Horseman, Orange is The New Black, and Daredevil (just to name a few) are often referenced as some of the best shows in this second Golden Age of television. In fact, Netflix received eight Golden Globe nominations for 2015, more than any other network or streaming service. Because these shows are only available on Netflix, they act as an incentive to get a subscription. In short, Netflix is offering top quality content in order to get more people to buy into their company. Yup, this means Orange is The New Black isn’t just great TV…it’s great content marketing.

All content marketing needs to be good in order to be successful. There are several ways these streaming companies work to make the best content possible, so they are not only providing viewers with great television, but television that pushes viewers to subscribe to their services.

Looking at The Big Data

When Netflix first jumped onto the originally programming train, it did so in a very scientific way. House of Cards, its first major success, was actually constructed to be exactly what audiences wanted. Researchers at Netflix looked back at the company’s data for similar shows, looking to see what kind of shows were most popular, what actors people liked, and even reviewing how often viewers replay sex scenes. It sounds a little creepy, but the result was a show tailor made to people’s interests.

Like Netflix, Amazon also relies on a wealth of data to determine what shows to make. This data includes views of the pilot, how many people watched the entire episode, how much people talk about it on social media, and so on. This data is new to the digital age, as talking around the office about shows is replaced with tweeting about a new episode. These companies are taking advantage of data and technology in order to create shows that people want to see. It all goes back to advertising: Amazon wants to make money, and the best way to do that is to make products people want.

Content should always be something your viewers actually want to be consuming. Content marketers can use various data-mining tools to see what content is most successful and model their future content in similar ways. Not every piece of content marketing will be as good as House of Cards, but marketers can try.

Listening To User Opinions

When Amazon develops shows, it uses a jury of peers to help decide what to produce. The company pre-releases pilots and allows users to vote on their favorites, plus viewers can submit individualized comments about what they liked about the show. Then, Amazon uses this information to decide which shows to greenlight for series. This process has led to the hugely successful show Transparent, among others.

When creating content, companies should think about what consumers want to see. Sometimes, simply asking the people what they want can be the best way to do this.

Reviving What People Love

Netflix and Hulu have revived cancelled shows such as Arrested Development and The Mindy Project. For old-school fans of these shows, a subscription to these services is the only way to continue watching their favorite show. Imagine if the only way to see the new Star Wars movie was online … think about how much money that streaming service would make. Other shows on these services are based off pre-existing source material such as comic books: Daredevil and Jessica Jones, for example.

Again, this goes back to creating content people want. This in turn creates a demand, and  if your product is the only way to meet that demand, people will want to buy it. Content marketers can think about what sort of tactics have worked in the past and follow up on these ideas. Sure, your little company might not be reviving Arrested Development, but basing your content off things you know people like is a good place to start.

What does all this mean for marketing?

So, what are these shows selling? What is the marketing intention behind the content? These companies use quality television to draw people in. Someone might subscribe to Netflix just because they really want to watch that new show Master of None, but then they get sucked into realizing all Netflix has to offer. Even if that person was plan on cancelling their subscription after finishing Master of None, they might be tempted to watch other Netflix original shows. Or they could watch every season of Friends, all of The Office, or any of the numerous options on Netflix. By luring viewers in with quality content, Netflix gets new customers (maybe for life.)

Amazon isn’t just marketing their streaming service, but also their Prime membership. For just $99 a year, you not only get access of Amazon Instant Video (with both original shows and beloved movies/tv shows) but you also get free 2-day shipping on a majority of the products on Amazon. Take it from a long-time Prime customer: Once you get used to free 2-day shipping, you start to buy more products from Amazon. Amazon Instant Video is just one of the perks that come with Prime membership, and once you have Prime membership, you’ll probably end up using Amazon a lot more. So, shows like Transparent may be breaking new ground in television, but they are also just advertisements to get you to buying your shampoo from Amazon instead of Walmart.

Television is changing, maybe for the better. We’ve reached what critics are calling “peak television”. There is more room for expression and collaboration, more opportunities for creators, and more of a chance of creating something truly good that people will want. The creative people behind these stand-out shows are dedicated to creating amazing television, but these shows really are extended commercials for the streaming services themselves. Is television an art or a product? With these new services, it has the potential to be both.

Interested in learning more about content marketing? Check out our Content Marketing Academy!