How Process Simplicity Could Reinvent Late-Night Television

Netflix Late Night June 2014

Finally, the first woman has landed a late night comedy talk show on a major network.    So, is it CBS? ABC?   Comedy Central?  No, it’s Netflix.

On Thursday, Netflix announced that they would be “reimagining the late night talk show for the on-demand generation,” with an offering by Chelsea Handler.  The show won’t start until 2016, and some industry watchers have pondered the technical difficulty Netflix will face in broadcasting a same-day show.

Ridiculous… Netlfix has two years to solve a technical issue that has already been solved.  There are two technical processes in play here, both of which already exist.  For decades, traditional networks have been taping in the afternoon, to broadcast their late-night talk offerings in the evening.   For several years, Netlfix has been turning “canned” content into streaming content.

All they have to do now is stitch the two processes together… And speed up the resulting process so that it can take place in a few hours, instead of several days.

This is what I’m always trying to tell people about process management.  Managing, tweaking and innovating existing processes is not that hard.  You’re not defying the laws of physics.  You’re not trying to discover materials that have never been used before.  You’re simply trying to make things flow in a more cohesive and efficient manner.

The toughest challenge Netflix will face is in getting a team of people to agree on a “best path forward”.

Here’s the biggest mistake teams like this make.  They spend a lot of time talking about “how” when they should really keep their focus on “what”.   When you gather a group of technical folks together, they are most interested in how they are going to solve the problem.  They start with the most technically challenging piece of the puzzle.  They say things like, “If we can’t solve this problem, then nothing else matters”.   Then they spend all of their time focused on “how” to make their ideas fit.

Maybe they solve it.  Maybe they don’t.  Maybe they have to change course late in the game and try something different.  Maybe they run out of time and throw a bunch of money at it to get it off the ground.  Expensive things like quantum processors, legions of production staff, consultants.

What they really need is to focus on first is the “what”.  What are we trying to accomplish?  What does each process owner need to deliver their piece of the puzzle seamlessly?

The reason processes are complex isn’t because the technology is too new or too technical.  Processes are complex because there are lots of moving parts in each one.  For each of those moving parts – people, software, hardware, information, idealism – there is a possibility that something might go wrong.  Focusing too early on “how” blinds us.  The solution to one technical challenge creates problems which cascade through the system.

Here’s my advice to Netflix:  Go back to the beginning.   Take a look at all the ways you can edit and deliver same-day content.  Take a look at all the ways you can deliver streaming content.  Ask yourself, “How can we make this process as simple as possible?” Less software, less equipment, less handoffs, less complexity.

Then design.  When you stumble, ask yourself again, “how can we make this simpler?”

In this case, there’s no doubt that your solution will be technically complex.  But if you keep your focus on simplicity, there’s a greater likelihood that the solution will be elegant and efficient.  Better yet, it will be bulletproof.

You have two years.  Don’t end up with a band-aid-covered, technically difficult solution.  Don’t work in a frenzy right up until the first show airs.  Design simplicity into your process and you will create something remarkable.


photo credit:  Chris Alcoran,

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