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Lean out is in: how the Netflix / Spotify crossover is taking advantage of a key consumer dynamic

Cover image for Lean out is in: how the Netflix / Spotify crossover is taking advantage of a key consumer dynamic

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Photo of Hanna Kahlert
by Hanna Kahlert

Netflix and Spotify have just launched a collaborative project: a page on the Spotify app that is dedicated to soundtracks and playlists based on popular Netflix shows and films. The implications point to the growth of a trend so natural it seems obvious: fans want to incorporate elements of their favourite shows into other aspects of their lives. This partnership between the dominant video and music streaming services seems natural; as non-competitors, they can ally to create a hybrid ecosystem that acts as an alternative to the Amazon or Apple media universes. Given Netflix’s forays into gaming, it looks like the video service is pursuing this media fusion strategy in a cautious yet determined manner.

Beyond the implications for these two specific brands, however, this partnership between the leading global video streaming service and the leading global music streaming service demonstrates savviness in taking advantage of the growing audience palate for engaging with content beyond direct consumption.

The era of lean-out consumption is here

A consumer turns on the TV, or puts on an album, and sits back on the couch with their hands behind their head, to watch (or listen). This is ‘lean-back’ consumption. It suits traditional formats and metrics around entertainment because it engages with the consumer’s free time, and thus can command their sole attention. (Note: this also accounts for background viewing, or other forms of passive viewership which do not have any additional engagement).

Now this audience member sits up, takes out their phone, and begins to text a friend about the show, then searches one of the actors on Google. This is ‘lean-in’ consumption: a direct activation in which the audience engages with the content elsewhere, but not instead of the entertainment itself. It could also mean checking rankings for sports players, or buying a band’s t-shirt, for example.

Three seasons of the show later, the audience member gets up (potentially leaving the show running), goes to buy supplies from a craft shop, makes an iconic costume from the show in their living room, and posts photos on Twitter, Instagram, and a few subreddits. This is ‘lean-out’ behaviour: fan behaviour entirely independent of consumption, which typically involves creation and social activity. It could also be starting a fantasy football league, making a cover of a song on YouTube or TikTok, or even just joining a related Discord channel to discuss fan theories and expectations for upcoming releases.

Creator tools have not only made professional creators’ lives easier, but have become mainstream with social apps, like Instagram and TikTok, and are readily accessible for those tempted to go deeper with more complex production tools, like GarageBand and iMovie. The dynamic of consumption is no longer straightforward, as audiences are empowered and inspired to create things for themselves. Since the proliferation of content means intense competition for attention, consumers are increasingly turning to that which they not only lean-in to but can also lean-out from as a means of prioritising their time. Capturing this form of engagement is very difficult to do with traditional metrics, but it is indicative of the most powerful form of fandom and thus is (or should be) a growing priority for content IP holders and distributors.

The strength of the soundtrack crossover

Netflix’s brand identity is linked to its shows, which have proven to be adept at engaging the cultural zeitgeist and incorporating lean-out activations. From the Tiger King ‘did Carol Baskin kill her husband’ debate, to the increase in chess set sales after The Queen’s Gambit, to the red jumpsuits and Dali masks of Money Heist appearing at protests worldwide, to Squid Game themed events (not to mention the boom in white slip-on Vans sales), Netflix has honed the strategy of boosting content which not only gets views, but encourages viewers to engage in their own ways on their own time ­– even while engaging with other platforms and content. It seems that, in the end, Netflix decided to stop competing with the likes of Fortnite and sleep, and instead co-opted them as platforms for fan expression.

The oft-lamented issue of streaming is that it has relegated music to being largely a background activity. Rather than paying thorough attention to an album during a dedicated listening session, audiences are using streaming platforms to soundtrack their own lives while going about their daily activities. Be this good or bad, Netflix has spied the opportunity to encourage fans to soundtrack their lives with the music from its shows – and Spotify gets the benefit of Netflix’s strong show branding to draw listeners to its app.

With “Netflix” now listed alongside discovery tabs like “Radio”, “Hip-Hop”, “Country”, “Happy Holidays” and “Workout”, a vision of new genres being contextual to platforms begins to emerge as well. TikTok music has a distinct character as opposed to SoundCloud rap, for example, and gaming soundtracks are fighting for recognition at awards. As music has proliferated across entertainment and over many platforms, its use to accentuate and create specific vibes has given rise to new, niche types or ‘genres’ which stand out better than the literal thousands which traditionally defined it.

So, expect consumers now to be listening to the Narcos soundtrack on Spotify, while debating whether that Squid Game red jumpsuit from Halloween can double as a Christmas outfit. Welcome to the world of lean-out consumption.

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