It's really not surprising that, in the midst of a pandemic that has most of the country--and parts of the world--effectively shut down, Netflix is having a very good quarter. Few companies are better positioned for a situation where people literally can't leave their homes, resulting in an addition of 15 million new subscribers. That's double the company's expectations.
Of course, who even knows what to expect right now. It's hard to make plans when there is so much unknown. That's true for businesses, CEOs, parents, families, and individuals trying to figure out when they'll be able to buy toilet paper again without having to stand in line outside the local grocery store.
Netflix is actually in a very strange position, best represented by this quote from the company's shareholder letter: "We expect viewing to decline and membership growth to decelerate as home confinement ends, which we hope is soon."
Did you catch that? Of course, it's good news for the company that more people are at home watching streaming services. But no one would wish this current situation on anyone, which means that the company is actually rooting against its own interests for the sake of its customers.
That's actually a pretty revealing statement of self-awareness and an important lesson for every company.
The shareholder letter goes on to say that "we're acutely aware that we are fortunate to have a service that is even more meaningful to people confined at home, and which we can operate remotely with minimal disruption in the short to medium term."
I consider myself fortunate that I'm able to work from home, a luxury that isn't lost on me as I observe the effect of millions of people who have lost their jobs. Even those who have kept their jobs are working under dramatically different conditions than they are used to. Companies like Netflix are in a unique position, and recognizing that says a lot about how they view their relationship with the people they serve.
There's another reason that this kind of self-awareness is important for Netflix, and other producers and studios, for that matter. Which is that the same thing that has been a boon for Netflix now, will have a real cost in the not-so-distant future.
While it might be good for increasing subscriptions that everyone is at home watching Netflix right now, that also includes the talent and crews responsible for the company's original content. Depending on how long the country stays at a standstill, Netflix and other content producers could face a huge challenge delivering on what customers have come to expect.
For example, HBO Max today announced it would launch on May 27. While WarnerMedia announced a slate of shows and movies that would be available, several shows are already delayed, including the highly-anticipated Friend's cast reunion.
Disney released several films early to its Disney+ streaming service, and Apple has made Apple TV+ free to pretty much everyone with one of its devices. All of those companies, like the rest of us, have had to figure out not only what our current situation looks like, but also what the future version of 'normal' might look like.
The lesson is this--even the thing that you never thought could happen, that once-in-a-century-event, can happen. When it does, it's hard to predict how it might affect your business. The most important thing you can do is to prepare for what comes next, because while it's extraordinarily difficult right now, this will pass. When it does, what you do now will determine where your company will be then.
Oh, and rooting for your customers, even when it seems like it might not be in your best interests, is always the right move.