Netflix wants to be Beyoncé so bad—at least if its low-key but ongoing experiments with the surprise drop are any indication. With no advance fanfare, and forgoing its preferred Friday release date for original material, the service dropped a surprise anthology of horror shorts under the title Don’t Watch This. Perhaps to ensure it goes extra viral, one of the five episodes (by far the shortest, clocking in at around just two minutes) features the Queer Eye star Antoni Porowski in a riff on American Psycho. This, of course, means he spends most of those two minutes in nothing but a face mask and tiny white Calvin Klein hip briefs.
Though the release is a continuation of a recent campaign of horror-themed programming like The Haunting of Hill House and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Don’t Watch This doesn’t appear to be designed to win Emmys or new subscribers (necessarily), or to launch a new franchise. All in all, it’s a low-budget affair in which Porowski is perhaps the most famous name. It’s also a collaboration with Crypt TV, a horror-themed production company that distributes most of its material through YouTube, Facebook Video, and Snapchat. So what exactly is the point here, and why does Netflix want us to look at its Queer Eye star doing yoga before revealing a chilling secret?
Well, as much as Netflix’s profit model is entertainment, perhaps the real business is in its data, and it’s hard not to see this little effort as the next step in its continued experiments with surprise drops.
Though Netflix revolutionized the way we watch TV, the way it promotes those shows is still pretty standard. Release dates are announced well in advance, and shows are promoted both through traditional media and paid advertising. Even the biggest example of a Netflix “surprise” release, The Cloverfield Paradox, was heralded with a very pricey Super Bowl ad. (Another notable example, *The End of the F*king World, was actually announced five days before it’s release.)
Of course, Netflix continues to gleefully take on more and more debt in its efforts to produce more and more content. One has to assume that the company would be interested in experimenting with how much money it really needs to put into advertising and promotion to get eyes on a program. Should it be able to rely on the cachet and social feeds of its in-house stars instead, that’d be icing on the cake.
The program also continues Netflix’s recent trend of experimenting with short-form content. The company already knows it’s a major player when you sit down on your couch at night and decide what to watch, but it also is in the midst of figuring out whether it can compete against YouTube with content under 10 minutes that you might watch while you’re supposed to be doing work, or at least during the commute home.
Beyoncé-style drops of short-form anthology series are probably not Netflix’s future, but it sure seems like the service could stand to learn a lot from occasional experiments like these, and if they happen to involve a Queer Eye boy in the shower, so be it.