If We Build It, They Will Come — Netflix in Cuba

NetflixCubaIt seems obvious that Netflix would be among the first U.S. companies to take advantage of thawing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, but I wasn’t expecting this announcement at all.

“Starting today, people in Cuba with Internet connections and access to international payment methods will be able to subscribe to Netflix and instantly watch a curated selection of popular movies and TV shows.” – Netflix press release

First of all, the World Bank estimates that just 5 percent of Cubans have broadband access to watch Netflix. And the $8 per month subscription fee will seem pricey in a country where the average monthly wage apparently is $20. On one hand, this move by Netflix seems a little show-ponyish — with 11 million residents (probably 3-4 million households, only a fraction of them broadband equipped) this market won’t contribute much to subscriber growth.

And yet, Netflix co-founders Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings do have an uncanny ability to see around corners. Think of what it will be like to be on the ground floor in a country where online commerce is still forming, and where, with no entrenched broadcast or cable interests, internet television could be the primary viewing option.

Cuba is isolated enough yet close enough to U.S. culture and media to provide a real world laboratory to test some interesting paradigms. What would happen if you could build a broadband infrastructure with Internet television in mind? What if the selection of Internet TV channels was as robust as cable/satellite from the get-go — how would consumers behave? The answers could have a far-reaching effect.

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