Creative Production at Netflix is a bit like air traffic control for a piece of content landing on the service. Whether it is subtitles, dubbing, tagging, trailers, imagery, marketing assets, and more - creative production is truly the intersection of content, marketing, and product. Rochelle King, Vice President of the team, discusses how being a leader means making as few decisions as possible, leaving Netflix for Spotify and then coming back, and what type of skills they look for as they grow creative production on a global scale.
S1: This is We Are Netflix, Netflix employees talking about work and life at Netflix.
Rochelle: I often say that one of the superpowers of our organization is that we are both art and science living under the same roof. I think it’s really important that we have both creative excellence and we also have operational excellence.
Lyle: That’s Rochelle King, Vice President of Creative Production at Netflix. And if you’re looking for an example of how Netflix blends creativity with operational skills, Rochelle’s group is a good place to start.
The job of the creative production team is to connect Netflix users with stories they’ll love through all sorts of media and experiences inside our product and out. That includes everything from billboards on the street, to trailers on YouTube, to the artwork, summaries and clips you see in the Netflix App, even those little tags used to describe and categorize shows and movies. Creative production has a hand in all those assets, helping to craft them, manage them and translate them into dozens of languages for audiences worldwide. Creative production is also involved in quality control, working to insure that people have great viewing experiences when watching Netflix.
I’m Lyle Troxell and on this episode of We Are Netflix a conversation with Rochelle King about the art and science of creative production at Netflix. We hear about Rochelle’s career, which has taken her from the semiconductor industry to Netflix, then Spotify, then back to Netflix. We’ll learn about her approach to management, what skills she looks for as she grows her global team, and the values that guide her and her colleagues, especially the importance of having a really diverse workforce in order to better understand and serve our really diverse audiences around the world. I started by asking Rochelle how creative production fits into Netflix as a whole.
Rochelle: So there’s a couple of things that are interesting about the team. They really sit at this intersection of content, product and marketing. Right?We work with the marketing team to make sure that we can execute their campaigns and bring them to life. We work with the product team because so much of the work that we do, representing the titles on the service, the synopses, all of those things about the member experience, is something that lives in the product.
Rochelle: And then we work with the content organization, because, clearly, the key offering of Netflix is really the content, right? It’s the TV shows and movies. And, so, we have to go a good job of authentically representing those stories on Netflix. I think, at the highest level, we think about how we bring those three areas together in our organization. And that hopefully by having that connectivity to all of these different parts of Netflix, you know, we can do a better job for just our members.
Lyle: Do you think that intersection between product, content and marketing is unique to Netflix? Do you think other companies are doing this as well?
Rochelle: I think one of the exciting things about Netflix is that it is an entertainment company and it’s a technology company. And it’s really both of those things in equal measure.And, so, I think that’s been one of the strengths of Netflix, over the past 20 years that it’s existed as a company, is that we really value both of those things equally. And, so, in that sense it feels like something that is more uniquely Netflix, or maybe it’s something that we’ve just found a way to do really, really well.
Lyle: Let’s talk about your path a little bit, because you have an example of not maybe a traditional path to the role your in. You have an Art History undergraduate, yeah?
Rochelle: That’s right.
Lyle: And then after your undergraduate in Art History what—did you have a specific area of interest in Art History?
Rochelle: My thesis was on Southeast Asian Villages Art.
Rochelle: Or architecture, actually.
Lyle: And then you went off to a Master’s degree in architecture, right?
Rochelle: In civil engineering, in—
Lyle: What happened?
Rochelle: . . . in structural engineering.
Lyle: How’d that happen?
Rochelle: Yeah. So, I actually spent a summer—a summer in a graduate school design program specifically on architecture. And what I felt like I realized was that if you don’t understand the physics behind buildings, if you don’t understand the science behind something, it’s very easy to build these beautiful structures in cardboard that will never hold up in real life.And, so, I think that I decided at that point that instead of studying architecture I would make sure that I understand the underlying physics of—behind buildings. And, so, I went into a graduate program in structural engineering.
Lyle: Did you enjoy it?
Rochelle: Yeah. I did enjoy it a lot.
Lyle: How did you move from that to doing a career at Netflix?
Rochelle: I was in Silicon Valley in the late ‘90s.
Lyle: That’ll do it.
Rochelle: And that was when the internet was really kind of exploding.And I think working in a semiconductor capital equipment company, which is what I was doing, I realized that I was very far removed from the people that my work was impacting. Right. So, maybe I was able to work on something that helped to make the chip that then, you know, eventually cured cancer one day. But that’s so far removed from—you know, the work is so far removed from the people it would impact. And I think a lot of what the internet was about at time was this more—
Lyle: Really close connection, yeah.
Rochelle: Right. And, like, what can you do with technology to make other folks’ lives better?
Rochelle: Right? And, so, that’s how I got into internet and technology in general.
Lyle: So, in late 2010 you came on board at Netflix as the Creative Director of Product.
Lyle: And you were with us for, like, 3-1/2 years. And what was the company like at that time?
Rochelle: I think—I’m trying—I feel like we were, like, a thousand people.
Rochelle: We probably just broke a thousand. So, it was quite small. It was very exciting to be at Netflix at that time. In the three years that I was here, we went from being a DVD-by-mail company to really leaning into streaming. We went from being on almost no devices in people’s homes to being on, I think, over 800. I think my first year at Netflix we launched on the Xbox, the Wii, and the PlayStation, which was a huge step for us at that time. And we were only in the U.S., but by the time that I had left we had launched in Canada, Latin America and we were just about to launch in the Nordics.So, it was a really exciting time to be at Netflix because we were going through a lot of this huge transformation as a company.
Lyle: Yeah. Why’d you leave?
Rochelle: So, I never thought that I was going to leave Netflix.I was so happy here and I was planning on retiring here, like literally.
Rochelle: I think somewhere in May of 2012, or something like that, Spotify reached out. And at that time they were this young music streaming company and they had just launched in the U.S. And—
Lyle: They started in Europe, right?
Rochelle: They did. They are based in Stockholm. And I wasn’t interested in leaving initially, but really enjoyed my conversations with them.And at Netflix we are very good about sort of, you know, not being threatened by things like that and encouraging folks to have these kinds of conversations. Because you always learn something, I think, in that process. It’s something that I do encourage my team to think about. It’s like, you know, when you get interesting calls, you should always take them because you never know where that might lead you. Right?
So, they reached out to me. And the job that they had for me was originally going to be based in New York. But my husband and I had talked about it. And we said, you know, we’re not that interested in living in New York, but we would be really, really interested in living in Sweden. Because living abroad and living in Europe is something that I think we’ve always wanted for our family. And, at the time, my two children were 7 and 9. So, it was a perfect time to move, because they weren’t going to be resentful to me about, you know, ruining their prom or tearing them away from their friends. And, so, it seemed like a perfectly timed opportunity to go and live in Europe for a few years and really experience that. So, I would say a lot of the decision to leave Netflix was driven more by these personal motivations about giving my family an opportunity to live abroad.
Lyle: And did the people you worked with understand that decision?
Rochelle: Yeah. I think so, yeah.
Lyle: Did you always have in the back of your mind that you might come back?
Rochelle: So, honestly, I did.
Rochelle: I think Netflix feels like home in so many ways. And I did have that in the back of my head a little bit. Because I really always enjoyed working here and I loved the people that I worked with.And, you know, you always find ways to come back to working with folks that you love.
Lyle: Yeah. And so, in spring of 2018 you came back. So, you’ve been back only for a couple years.
Rochelle: Yeah. Just under two years.
Lyle: And what’s the—what was the difference for you as you came back in a kind of larger role at some level. What does it feel like? What’s changed?
Rochelle: The core of the company still feels very much the same.The values that we have back then, which was a lot of what I loved about Netflix, still hold true. But we’re starting to look at those values with a slightly different lens, an evolved lens, I would say. We had these values that sort of anchored what it—what the culture at Netflix was like. And that might be things like courage, selflessness, curiosity. We added one value while I was away, which was the value of inclusion.
Lyle: Oh, cool.
Rochelle: And, so, coming back, I still see ways every day that people are exercising or demonstrating these values of courage and curiosity, etc.But adding that value of inclusion has actually materially shifted things in a very concrete way. So, for example, curiosity, when we talked about that before, it was really about, you know, “Am I curious to understand how the product works?” “Am I curious in asking questions about the industry or the business and these sorts of things?” Now, curiosity also means “Am I curious enough to understand what your experience is that might be different from mine?”
Rochelle: Based on the foundational idea that me having that curiosity about you as a human will make me better at my job, will make our relationship better when we work together.
Lyle: There’s this zeitgeist that we’re, like, not a family, we’re a team. There’s that aspect of it, too, which—it feels a little—you know, it feels in contrary to what you’re saying about being inclusive. Have we loosened that? How has that changed?
Rochelle: I know that a lot of—a number of folk feel like that statement is challenging.
Rochelle: But here’s the thing that I think about. I used to be athletic. So, I used to play a lot of sports. The best teams that I was on felt really warm and wonderful, but we all had a very common goal.
Rochelle: Right? And, so, I think that saying that we’re a team, not a family, it doesn’t mean that we have to exclude that humanity of cheering each other on, supporting each other, and all of those values. Right?What we sometimes say about a family is that for better or for worse you don’t always get to pick who your family is.Right? And you kind of have to stick through them—stick with them through everything, even if you disagree with that person’s values or even if they do something awful. And, so, the nice metaphor about a team is in a super high-functioning team you’re all working together. You feel great. It is human.It is supportive and empathetic.And you’re really just trying to get everyone to succeed towards the same goal. And I think that’s the difference between a team and family.
Lyle: I think it’s interesting that you mention this piece about the warmthness [sic] and the quality of inclusion. I was chatting with somebody on the shuttle this morning.And they said, “Oh, Rochelle has this—her whole org has a very friendly and welcoming and warm space.” And I was like, “Oh good, how do I bring that up?”And she’s like, “I don’t know.”And I’m like, “Well, how—what does she do to make this happen?” And she’s like, “I don’t know.” So, how do you make that happen?
Rochelle: It’s always nice to hear that. I think it starts with honesty about who you are as a leader, and then encouraging everyone in the team to kind of do the same. I’m very honest about what mistakes I’ve made.You know, where I’ve messed up.Things like that will help people understand that, you know, you’re not perfect in these different ways.
And I think when we, sort of, are willing to be a little bit vulnerable with each other, about, “Hey, I’m really not good at this thing and I need more help.” You know if I were to tell you, “Hey, I’m really not good with finance,” which I’ve said to my financial partner. You know, then she’s more apt or empowered, you know, or more likely to sort of say, “Hey, Rochelle, I know you might need some help with this. How can I—how can I get your back on that?” Right?
And, so, I think that it—there is something about being willing and comfortable with being vulnerable, or sort of saying where we need help from each other is a foundation of that. Because if we’re aware of that, then I can also lend you support when you need it. And that creates some of that human connection, and that warmth, and that support.
At the same time, we also have to be really aware and conscious of what everyone’s superpowers are and how we celebrate them. Because I think we all have different capabilities and all have different superpowers. And, so, if I understand that, you know, what your superpower is, and then I’m going to want to amplify that for you, or play it up. It’s another form of support. But all of these are actually—How would I know what your superpowers are, or how would I know what your weaknesses are if we didn’t actually have some kind of a human connection, or a warmth, or a willingness to share those things? I think maybe that’s—
Lyle: That’s good.
Rochelle: . . . part of it.
Lyle: I thought you were going to have some kind of magic trick.It doesn’t sound like that. Just be a really good human being.
Rochelle: Be a really good human being. Be very honest about who you are and what your flaws are, and then recognize that in others.
Lyle: Thanks for touching on kind of inclusion, diversity and how we’re working on that as part of our core values. How does it show up in the work that your team does?
Rochelle: One of the things that I think is really important about inclusion and diversity efforts that are going on at every company is that it’s great when all of the folks that are in the team feel comfortable, and feel better, and feel like their voices are heard and that they are seen. But I think that the real impact happens when we do things that impact the member experience. So, because we have such a great inclusive and diverse org—Which we still need to work on, by the way.
Rochelle: We’re not there yet. We’re always working on it. But if we have the core elements of that, then, hopefully, what’s inside of Netflix will then help to impact what’s outside of Netflix. So, one example, when we first launched in Japan—You know anime is a very popular category in Japan. It’s animation. And, initially, we just had one category -- anime.
Lyle: Which is like this giant—
Rochelle: Which is giant.
Rochelle: It’s a huge catalog of all kinds of different shows and story lines and everything. And, so, we hired folks that were Japanese that really had history with those kinds of shows and really understood deeply. And bringing those people into our walls, they hugely influence how we categorize anime.
Rochelle: And, so, now we have—
Lyle: Because they’re aware of the genre, and the cultural effect of anime in—
Rochelle: That’s right.
Lyle: . . . Japan. So, they can say, “Oh, actually, here’s a whole subgenre that’s very different.People are watching this. We’ve got to put a label on this so the people can find it.”
Lyle: All that stuff.
Lyle: And you can’t do that without that expertise.
Rochelle: That’s right. And without people who have truly lived it, and love it and understand Japanese culture and how that comes through in anime. And just today someone came up to me and she was like, “I’m so excited. I just want to show you this tweet.” We love these tweets that are always about “Netflix gets me.” Right? And she showed me this tweet that said, “anime for gamers, Netflix totally gets me.”You know this is the best—this is the best category ever. Someone forged a great category. Netflix, you know, anime for gamers.”
Lyle: Yes, yes.
Rochelle: And I think it’s those—That’s ultimately feeling that we want to get.
Lyle: Okay. So, it is important for us to have, like, a global representation inside the company so we can provide a product that globally appealing.
Lyle: Yeah. That’s cool.That’s make it—a lot of sense that your team’s going to see that, because you touch so many aspects of the company.
Rochelle: Another example of that is that we have—This is, like, my favorite story. So, I tell this story all the time to folks inside the company. But we have two folks that are working on that editorialcreative team. And they’re watching shows and doing the analysis of it and coming up with different tags.
They noticed on Twitter that one of our most popular shows, Alita, which is like a Spanish show that takes place in a high school, and it’s, you know, these sort of rich kids, like, and kids from the wrong part of town coming together, right? But they noticed that in that show there’s an LGBTQ storyline that was popping on Twitter.And, so, there’s a character named Omar and there’s a character named Anders, and basically they are a couple.And, so, these two folks, Adam and Matt, noticed that—
Lyle: Because they were watching the show.
Rochelle: Because they were watching the show. And they saw it pop. And they were working on the show. And they realized that it was really—this storyline was really resonating in the community, but it wasn’t something that they had captured in their work.So, they decided to go back and re-tag that show to include a lot of these LGBTQ storylines—
Lyle: I see, yeah.
Rochelle: . . . in a way that then helped it get more exposed to folks that are also part of that community and would like that. Right?
Lyle: So, when I open up my UI and I saw that show, it would have a tag that was LGBT, or something like that, that would tell me about that storyline.
Rochelle: And they worked with some of the other folks in my organization to help create artwork that showed that couple—
Lyle: Hm-hmmm [affirmative]. Yeah, sure.
Rochelle: And artwork and so forth. And what I didn’t say earlier was that both Matt and Adam are part of the LGBTQ community. And, so, they saw something in the real world—
Lyle: Oh, and that’s why they saw it in the real world.
Rochelle: . . . about something that they’re—Right.
Lyle: Because they’re part of that community.
Rochelle: And they—and it resonated with them. And then they decided to go back and tag it so that it could then get—you know, they felt like it was a good storyline, positive in these different ways. And then, so, they did, in their own day to day work.
Lyle: This sounds like an opportunity to talk about freedom and responsibility, and what it looks like. Did they come to you and say, “I want to do this?” or how did that work out?
Rochelle: No. I found out about it after the fact. So, they just did this. And now I’m telling their story all over the place. But it’s something that they independently, you know, recognized and came up with, and were empowered to go and rally other folks to help out.
Lyle: Yeah. So, how is it that we are able to make it such that two employees that see something like that and make a good decision and decide to do it, don’t have to go through hoops? Like, what is it that allows us to achieve that kind of thing? That they could actually act on those decisions.
Rochelle: I think it’s really about having employees that know what is ultimately important to the business. Right? And I think them feeling confident and empowered enough to be able to make those kinds of decisions on their own. Because, ultimately, if that show gets watched by more folks who may not have been exposed to it before, but who would have really enjoyed it or for whom that story would have resonated with them, then that’s better for our business.
Rochelle: Right. And, so, I think that they understand that as the North Star. Is this work that I’m going to do, is it going to help this show find a larger audience, or a different audience in some way?
Lyle: Right. So, the person’s not tasked to go take these tags and apply them to all these shows.They’re more saying, “Here’s some tools.The job role you have. The goal here is to have these shows get in front of people that will enjoy them. Go.”
Rochelle: That’s right.
Lyle: Right. So a lot of context about why we’re doing it and the ability for them to make their own decisions—
Rochelle: That’s right.
Lyle: . . . does it. Okay. And I’m assuming there’s other examples of that through your org.
Rochelle: Oh, definitely.
Lyle: Can you—Got another one? That’s a great one, I’ve got to say. I love the idea that two people can go, “This is important to my community. I can re-tag this show to make it even more appropriate and findable.” That’s great.
Rochelle: Well, this is one that’s not necessarily inclusion focused.
Lyle: Hm-hmmm [affirmative].
Rochelle: But I’ll just—
Lyle: That’s great.
Rochelle: It’s a great example, is that somewhere last year one of my direct reports came up to me and said, “Hey, I just wanted you to know that we found a better way of doing QC (quality control). And it looks like we’re going to be saving the company tens of millions of dollars in costs.”
Lyle: That’s a good morning.
Rochelle: I was like, “Oh, that’s great. Thanks for letting me know. Thanks for looping me into that.” And, you know, it was something I think the team just independently recognized. “Wow, there’s a lot of excess here. You know, there’s a way that we could be doing this smarter.” And they went off and tried it out. And then, you know, several months later I get, you know, notified about—
Lyle: Of how it—
Rochelle: . . . the progress…
Lyle: . . . how it turned out.
Rochelle: . . . how it went.
Lyle: Yeah, that’s great. Fantastic. Your organization is in 13 different offices.
Rochelle: That’s right.
Lyle: Right? Globally?
Lyle: What are the challenges that come up with running an organization like that? And why are those people there?
Rochelle: Some of the challenges are, you know, really about making sure that the teams can feel connected to each other.
Lyle: Hm-hmmm [affirmative].
Rochelle: Even if they’re on opposite of the world. And I think the other challenge is that it’s so easy to trust someone that you sit right next to and that you see every day. But if you start to see them on VC it gets harder.If you actually—
Rochelle: Video conferencing.
Lyle: Video conference, yeah. Thank you.
Rochelle: And, so, if you start to see them in a remote meeting once a week, it gets harder to maintain that trust and that relationship.
Rochelle: If now you can only chat with each other during a one-hour period of time that overlaps between your two regions, that becomes even more challenging. So, I think that one of the biggest challenges is about keeping that human connection between everyone around the world, and keeping that trust and that alignment.
Lyle: Yeah. How do you cope with that? Do you just travel a lot?
Rochelle: I do travel a lot, but I love it. I love visiting the teams that are in the different offices.It’s really fun for me. You know, but I think it is also about making sure that we are clear about what our priorities are, really aligning to it and those sorts of things.
I think, though, that the other important thing to keep in mind is that cultures are very different around the world and we all also have to do that extra work to make sure we’re thinking about how our priorities and our goals are best cascaded to different countries, to different regions. And how are we making sure that we’re also being sensitive about what’s the best way to represent that.
Lyle: So, we lean on that curiosity thing you were talking about earlier—
Rochelle: That’s right.
Lyle: . . . when we go there.
Rochelle: That’s right. And then I think you asked earlier why is it important to have folks in those countries—
Lyle: Yes, I was going to say, “Why—” Who’s in Singapore? What are they doing? Why does it matter?
Rochelle: Right. It’s really important because, more and more, the stories that we’re telling on Netflix come from all over the world. And we have this statement that I love that we’ve been saying more and more lately, which is that great stories can come from anywhere and they can be enjoyed everywhere.
Rochelle: Right? And if we really want to embrace that concept, then it’s really important that we’re authentically thinking about those stories, representing those stories, and it’s also really important that we have folks on the ground in those countries that are real-time experiencing what it’s like and what resonates with our members all over the world.
Lyle: So, what are the—Some of the team members there in Singapore, what are they working on? What do they do there?
Rochelle: Right. So, we have folks that are helping to think about, you know, how is it that we’re going to represent these stories on Netflix? And, so, we had Kingdom, which is a Korean show that came out. It was really popular, so we had folks thinking about, “Okay, it’s a period piece that also has zombies in it and, so, what is the artwork that we should create to represent that show? What would resonate with folks in this audience?” We have folks that are the operations team which is making sure that the title is launching on the service at the right time.
Lyle: It has all the things necessary to do that.
Rochelle: Has all the things that are necessary to do that.
Lyle: And that as important for them to be there, because, of course, it’s being produced—being produced not in Hollywood here. Right?
Rochelle: That’s right, yeah. And we have language managers that are based there. We have the team that works with the marketing teams based in Asia Pacific to help execute on their campaigns in those countries. And that’s where it’s really important that I’ve actually been to them all where this campaign is going to launch, because I know what it looks like in real life.
Lyle: Yeah. Okay.So, someone’s doing a project for you—And I’ve spoken with other people, I think have been on the podcast that are in these other areas. How much communication and how much freedom do they have when they’re executing on things?Like, how much do you hear about what they’re doing? Is it more like, “We did this already.” Or is it more like, “Should we invest this much in this?” What level are you involved?
Rochelle: So, for me, I’m not that involved. I—sometimes these questions make me wonder what my true contribution and value is to Netflix and my team, right? Because obviously you’ll be like, “Well, these people just saved money for her team and these people are just making these decisions that get more audience. And she doesn’t seem to know about anything that’s going on.”
So, I’m actually not that involved in those kinds of decisions. But I try to make sure that we are aligned on what’s important for the business, and where are we trying to lean into. How are we trying to work with different teams that are on the ground there? How—What is our relationship with the marketing team look like? What is our relationship with the content team look like? That’s what I try to—That’s where I try to stay involved. We hire super smart people and a lot of those folks are making these kind of decisions and—
Lyle: Right. So, you’re—that’s one of the things you’re doing, is help making sure we hire really smart people.
Rochelle: Yeah. And, honestly, like, the people we hire are probably smarter than me in those respects, and so they’ll do a better job at making those decisions than I would. So, you know—
Lyle: So, it sounds—You know, we’re both laughing about this a bit.But there is this aspect of—I mean, is there a rawness there for you? Do you question sometimes your own value? Is that something that’s true? I—not to be—dig deep or anything.
Rochelle: Oh, yeah. No. No. We can go there.
Rochelle: Yeah. Of course.I think we do talk here about how imposture syndrome is something that a lot of folks feel.
Lyle: Even at the VP level, huh?
Rochelle: Oh, definitely at the VP level, too. I think that throughout my career self-confidence is something that I’ve been given feedback on and had to struggle with, and to try to come to terms with, you know? I think a lot of us question it because, honestly, my organization is so large and so complex in different dimensions that I could never hope to be an expert any one of these areas.
Rochelle: Right? And sometimes earlier in your career, you really believe that it’s your domain expertise that’s going to get you to the next level. And I think that when you make this transition to where you no longer hold that direct domain expertise in your head, of course you start to question what—
Lyle: Right. [unintelligible 00:25:26]
Rochelle: . . . your contribution is.
Lyle: . . . for so long. I was so good at doing that and now I’m not doing that.
Lyle: Yeah. Absolutely.
Rochelle: Exactly. Yeah.I think what I found that there are other skills, sometimes, that we need to—that we need to value and sort of recognize are helpful to the organization. And, so, I think one of the things that I try to do or try to lean into is an ability to facilitate conversations across different organizations that have that domain expertise.
Rochelle: I try to think about how, from my position—what can I do to bring different teams together. Or see that something is going on somewhere else that this other team could help out with.And how do I put those two teams together to have that conversation?
Lyle: That makes sense to me from the perspective of what your org does, but also where you are. Right?You’re going to be aware of things that an individual expert in some space won’t be aware of. And bringing that to them and kind of surfacing that is a big, important and kind of hard thing to do. So—
Rochelle: Yeah. And I think the other thing to recognize is that those folks in the organization also have really interesting and important perspectives. That it’s my job to make sure that I am their voice to carry it to other parts of the org, as well.
Lyle: Okay. So, we kind of talked about what your team does right now and kind of how your role is and things. Let’s talk a bit about what you’re interested in doing next. What you’re doing in the next few years. What’s the challenge that are coming up for your team and for you?
Rochelle: Netflix continues to grow more and more around the world. So, perhaps, the biggest thing that we think about is how can we do a better and better job of representing our members and—
Lyle: And representing our content in different ways—
Rochelle: . . . and our content—
Lyle: . . . to members. Hm-hmmm [affirmative].
Rochelle: . . . in different ways. That’s right. We’re telling more and more stories from different audiences and different voices around the service. We have to make sure that we’re representing that in as many different ways as possible, because—
Lyle: Not just globally? Not just like language and regional thing?
Rochelle: There are many, many ways to represent a story. Lost in Space could be a adventure/action story.It could be a family story. It could be sci-fi. And, depending on who you are, that story might resonate with you because of different reasons. And, so, part of what my team does is to try to understand what are all the—
Lyle: Ways of doing that.
Rochelle: . . . different ways of doing that.
Rochelle: Okay? And now, if we think about “Let’s add a layer of language on there.” “Let’s add a layer of—”
Lyle: Culture difference.
Rochelle: . . . cultural differences.
Rochelle: Let’s add—what might aesthetically, you know, resonate in different parts of the world. So, let’s think about all those different things. We need to be better and better about understanding how to best represent this content to folks from all over the world, and who might have all different kinds of perspectives.
Rochelle: And, so, we have to do that—authentically is really important.The other thing is that culture constantly changes. And, so, something that used to be great ten years ago may no longer resonate now. And if we’re trying to represent stories and the culture has changed, we could really seem like we’re out of touch.
Lyle: Do you have an example of that? It seems hard to—
Rochelle: Yeah. So, one example of that is that, I think around ten years ago, we launched a category or a row called Strong Female Lead. And we used that in many places throughout the product. Right? Like dramas with a strong female lead. You know, crime stories with a strong female lead. And, at that time, it was really celebrated. And, you know, women around the world were saying like, “Wow, I feel seen.This is really great. It’s a great way—”
Lyle: A win for your—
Rochelle: It was a real win, yeah. Recently, we started to get feedback that, you know, Strong Female Lead felt like it was out of touch in some ways.
Lyle: How so?
Rochelle: Because when you say like—when you use Female as a descriptor, it makes it seems as though it’s a place you wouldn’t expect to see a woman.
Rochelle: So, if I was to say, “Oh, it’s a female scientist.” That implies that I have to somehow—
Lyle: It’s different—
Rochelle: . . . describe it—
Lyle: . . . than scientist.
Rochelle: It’s different than scientist. And, so, what we did there was, you know, listening to that feedback that we were getting from some folks that were industry and also some members.It made us realize that there has to be a better way to still make those voices heard and to make those folks feel seen, but we could do it in a way that was more thoughtful about the language we used to describe it. So, instead of saying, like, Comedies with a Strong Female Lead, we now say Women Who Make Us Laugh.
Lyle: Oh, interesting. So, it still focuses that it is a woman doing something, because that’s part of the interest for the person that might want to listen to that and watch that story, but it’s not saying that—it’s not diminishing the role of a woman that happens to be a comedian by saying Female Comedian.
Rochelle: Female Comedian.
Lyle: Yeah. Okay, cool.So, it’s interesting. It’s a very subtle thing, really, it sounds like.
Lyle: But it’s amazing how subtle language really impacts people.
Rochelle: Oh, completely.
Lyle: Because it sounds a lot better to my ear—Women Who Make Us Laugh sounds a lot better than Female Comedian.
Lyle: Yeah. Interesting.Did—have we already done that on the product?
Rochelle: Yes. I think we’ve rolled it out, so, we could see that change happening.
Lyle: This sounds like a pretty sensitive topic.Right? I’m assuming that you’re using gender as a great way to talk about this, but this could happen anywhere and in any kind of diversity kind of terminology, if you will. You could quickly say something that was—didn’t sound right to anybody, or it sounds diminishing to people.
Rochelle: That’s right. Yeah.
Lyle: Yeah. Interesting.
Rochelle: So, I think that—and with some of these things, you know, we actually do talk to the experts in the field and really try to understand what’s going on. Because we recognize that we don’t have all the knowledge inside these walls.
Lyle: If you found someone that was really, like—seemed like, “Oh, they’d be pretty—they’d be really good here.” How would you pitch to them what challenges they would take on if they came on board your organization?
Rochelle: I would say that the challenges that we face today are thinking about how can we represent these stories to our members and to people all over the world in a way that will really resonate with them and make them know that it’s something that they might want to watch. Or, if it’s something that’s not right for them, something they shouldn’t watch—
Lyle: Oh, interesting.
Rochelle: And because culture is always changing, because the stories that we have on our service are always changing. It’s an ongoing challenge to think about those things and to think about how we can make sure that we’re always authentically giving folks the best Netflix experience that they can have. And that’s just on connecting folks to stories.
We also think about the different ways that we can continue to just make Netflix a better experience around the world, which gets to all of the language nuances, you know, as we launch in new languages around the world. How we’re making sure that we’re getting that right off the bat?
Lyle: Is your organization a, like a product, like, almost engineering kind of space? Or are you a creative space? I mean, you, yourself, are an art history person and an engineer. Is your organization like that, too? Is . . .
Rochelle: Yeah. I often say that one of the superpowers of our organization is that we are both art and science living under the same roof. I think it’s really important that we have both creative excellence and we also have operational excellence. And I think that my organization, from a functional perspective is really diverse. So, we have folks that are really great at thinking about operations and work flows and things like that. We also have folks that are really great artists that are, you know, really thinking about creativity and how do they push the frontier on creativity.
And having those two things live together means that the way that we come at solving problems is very different than if we were just a creative organization, or just a, you know, operational, you know, engineeringish or, you know, that kind of an organization.
Lyle: It sounds like, because you kind of have that as a core, some different types of people working together. This whole idea of their being curious of each other and supporting each other’s weaknesses and strengthening up to be little superpowers is really essential for your work.
Rochelle: Oh, totally. And I think one of the key themes that we have in my organization is thinking about how do we encourage creativity, but creativity at Netflix scale.And, so, we have a lot of conversations about, “Hey, you know, being that we are in a company that it equal parts entertainment, but also technology, how do we leverage technology to make more space for folks to be creative?”
Lyle: Hm-hmmm [affirmative].
Rochelle: Right? How do we use each other’s strengths to really help benefit the larger ecosystem?
Lyle: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about successful leaders in our organization. As you’re hiring people and stuff, when you’re looking for these independent people that can live in a different country and solve problems in the space—what kind of qualities are you looking for? And do you see people that have skills that are very different than yours in leadership that are successful?
Rochelle: Well, definitely in my team we sometimes talk about—when you’re building out your organization, it’s like an orchestra. And, so, you need to have folks that come from very different—you know, like—that all—if you had an orchestra of just violins, it probably wouldn’t sound so great, you know. And, so, you have to have all of the different pieces and you have to have folks that are very different from each other—
Lyle: Yeah. [unintelligible 00:33:51]
Rochelle: [unintelligible 00:33:51] Yeah. In order to make great music. Right? And, so, I look for folks with different skills than me sometimes, because I need someone to complement the things that I am weak in.
Lyle: Hm-hmmm [affirmative].
Rochelle: The skills that I think are actually most important for folks to be successful at Netflix right now—honestly, it’s a lot of flexibility.The industry is changing so fast.The way we work changes. You need to be highly adaptive. And you need to be able to flex in different ways. And I think there’s a lot of—to be said about taking an experience from one kind of a past job and seeing “How can I apply that to this new problem that I’m trying to solve today?”
Lyle: Well, Rochelle, as we’re kind of wrapping up, what’s wonderful to me is that the part of your organization that I know well, as a product engineer, as a UI engineer, we haven’t touched upon.
Lyle: So, I can go, “Hey, but what—you know, what about all these people?” So, the way I’ve seen your organization is actually in helping when we’re trying to figure out what feature goes into a product. Like if we’re going to add a new thing, like a vertical billboard or, you know, some other—like when we added tags to the user interface.
Rochelle: Right. You had a—
Lyle: There’s a partner that I worked that was from your team.
Rochelle: That’s right.
Lyle: So, who are those people? What’s that organization [unintelligible 00:35:01]?
Rochelle: Yeah. So, we have a—we have a small team of folks that are program managers and essentially what they do is help us work with our counterparts in engineering and product management and other parts of just generally the product organization to make sure that any of the work that we’re doing to evolve the member experience is getting done. Right?
Rochelle: So, there’s—As you know, at Netflix we’re always trying to improve what our member experience is. And we try lots of different ways to make that happen. But sometimes those ideas mean that my team has to do work to create new types of images, or new types of tags, or to think about what would happen if those tags were actually, you know, shown to our members instead of just being something that we use in the background. And, so, we have a team that helps us to work really close with—
Lyle: We—and in my old role in the IOS team and in that space, one of the things I worked on, which was a—which was a great one, is that we realized that even though we decided, “We’re going to make a new season of this show.” We didn’t tell the members that the show is going to come in summer or whatever.Right? So, you finish the last season of a show and you’re like, “It’s done.”And there’s kind of that spot in you like, “Ah, I want more of the show.” And we actually knew, “Yeah, that show’s coming in July,” right? And, so, we added this whole feature of just the end of the season, when we knew another one was coming. Next season coming in June. Right?It’s a very simple thing like that.
But that actually involves a lot of complexity in a large organization at scale. So, I worked with your team members who organized everybody to get everything.Like, “Where are we going to store this text?” “What’s the text going to be?” How to write it. All of these things. And, of course, by the time we’re launching the product, all I’m doing is, you know, interfacing through the entire stack of the company to get this little bit of text, so that a member can go, “Oh, good. I’m looking forward to July now.” So, that’s how I’ve seen your team.
Lyle: And it’s been great to work with them. And I love hearing about how you touch all across the company. Thank you so much. I want to end, though, really quickly by asking you our famous last question.What are you watching right now on Netflix?
Rochelle: So, I’m about to take off on a 19-hour flight to Singapore.
Lyle: Hm-hmmm [affirmative].
Rochelle: And whenever I go to different regional offices, I make sure that I’m always watching content from that region.
Lyle: That’s smart, yeah.
Rochelle: So, right now I’m watching Chief of Staff and Busted, both which have season two’s coming out. Those are Korean shows. And Earthquake Bird, which is a movie in 1980s Japan.
Rochelle: And Sacred Games, Season Two. I’m a little late to that, but that’s the one that I’m watching.
Lyle: Are you watching in big chunks? Are you going to watch a lot on the plain? What’s your—
Rochelle: I’m going to watch on the plane.
Lyle: Oh, great.
Rochelle: Yeah. But I’ve been watching for the past couple weeks.
Lyle: Yeah. Oh, good.Getting yourself prepped and ready.
Rochelle: Yeah. And generally I try to watch a lot of shows from all over the world all the time anyway, so . . .
Lyle: Well, Rochelle, thank you so much for being here on We Are Netflix.
Rochelle: Thank you.
Lyle: It was a real pleasure.
We Are Netflix
is hosted by Lyle Troxell. He’s a senior software engineer at Netflix. You can keep up with
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