6 Questions with Netflix's Bela Bajaria... and Then Some
What I observed during my trip to the Netflix Cup
In its still brief history, Netflix has made a lot of leaps into unexplored or forgotten realms of entertainment. This week, it held the world championship of a previously un-conceived-of sport best called golf-racing (or race-golfing). In case you missed it, at the Wynn on Nov. 14, as Las Vegas prepared to launch its first Formula 1 Grand Prix (about which the cab drivers of the city have decidedly mixed views), Netflix invited stars of F1 and professional golfing to come and compete on teams to see who is the best golf-racing pair in all of sports.
The players are actually chosen from two other Netflix shows, popular sports doc series, Full Swing, which goes inside the lives of professional golfers, and the older show, Drive to Survive, which follows a handful of F1 drivers and is widely held responsible for the sport's recent emergence in the U.S.
The Netflix Cup was therefore a bit of Road Rules vs. Real World-like crossover competition. The championship of world golf-racing may not yet be recognized as one of sport's most storied trophies but it did carry a not-so laughable $1 million dollars in prize money for the winning team. And a live airing.
I came to Vegas never having watched either a golf match or a race of any kind, and quite possibly never having set foot on a golf course, because I was curious to witness where the far reaches of the Netflix brand were being taken. I have written in the past that one of Netflix's most impressive qualities is its ability to keep taking big swings, and looking for new ways to build up the "brand". While the rest of Hollywood is hunkered down and defensive, Netflix keeps pushing into new territory with a sort of ,"Why the hell not? Let's try it!" spirit largely absent from the rest of entertainment, the legacy studios most especially. (It helps it can afford that attitude too.)
Appropriate for the spirit of a little DVDs-by-mail company that sauntered into the realm of the studios while they were sleeping and walked off with their entire business, the one thing you can't say Netflix has shown in its time is complacency.
In particular, Netflix's events arms, while marketing budgets at the legacy studios have suffered from tightened budgets and hidebound thinking, have been out-servicing fans directly with enormous public events for shows like One Piece, Bridgerton and Stranger Things — the latter of which is about to open a giant stage production in an almost fully rebuilt theater for the event on the West End.
The Netflix Cup was the company's third venture into live television, following the Chris Rock special and the ill-fated Love is Blind reunion.
So I decided to do some fact-finding on the ground, got on a plane, and went to see in person what it looks like when fans encounter the empire in this global Leviathan.
But before I turn to the findings, I had the chance to chat with Netflix's Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria in the clubhouse just before the first tee
-off of the day (I think that's what it's called).