Of late, much has been made of CNN’s streaming failure with the short-lived and scarcely watched CNN+. Sure, it only existed for a couple of weeks and is reported to have cost the company close to 300 million dollars, but I think what’s lost on most people is how hard it actually is to start your own streaming service. Take it from me, Nate Mustin, founder & CEO of Natework.
So maybe in hindsight my “All Nate, All The Time” idea for a streaming service wasn’t so hot. But like most colossal failures, when you’re in it, when you’re doing the work, you’re all but certain it’s going to be a success. Much like DePalma on a Bonfire of Vanities, in the moment, I felt that Natework was going to be my magnum opus. Better than Nate’s Nachos, better than Natebox, my clothing subscription business, and even better than my self-published children’s book, Nautical Nate and the Seas of Tomorrow.
This was to be my great triumph, but unfortunately I made some massive mistakes along the way.
Programming was the first major obstacle. My initial thought was to upload old home movies of my clarinet recitals and junior varsity soccer games. But the problem was, those videos only accounted for something like 3 hours, which isn’t enough for an entire streaming service. You need at least double, maybe triple that much.
Then I decided it might make sense to upload some of the early YouTube videos that I made, even the problematic ones. I felt a little controversy could be just what my service needed, but it turned out I only made two videos, both under two minutes, and both had aged very poorly. I tried to CGI out some of the “issues” a la Disney+, but found that I didn’t have the technical know-how to do so.
I ended up adding the videos to Natework regardless. I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t going to be enough. And so I did what most fledgling streaming services must do: I developed a slate of original content.
I had had a television idea in the back of my mind for several years that I knew, if executed properly, would be a winner. It was a Home-Improvement-type show where I played all of the characters. You know Tim, Jill, Wilson, all of them. Actually, it was just me recreating old episodes of Home Improvement.
The problems with this were twofold. One, it was hard playing every single character, and two, I had become really concerned with product placement midway through production and had accidentally placed products like Skippy Peanut Butter, Dot’s Pretzels, and King’s Hawaiian Rolls so prominently in certain shots that they covered the entire lens of the camera.
Also worth mentioning, at the time I didn’t really understand how product placement worked and assumed that if I had these products in my show that, legally, the company’s would have to pay me. With all that said, the 15 episodes of Nate Improvement I recorded were lackluster at best.
It was at that point that I just decided I would feature the television shows with the most seasons on my streaming service: The Simpsons, Gunsmoke, Mash, all the Law & Order stuff too. I could worry about contractual stuff later on—I needed to get this off the ground and fast.
The next step: the user interface. Now, I’m not much for design, but I did have an old blog site that was gathering dust and so I kind of modernized that to fit the streaming service. Using the old URL WhatIveBeenThinkingNately.blogspot.com, I slowly but surely began the design process for my new streamer. What this amounted to was me adding a header and list of available streaming options on the site. While many of these shows were still under the control of other services, I was forced to link to their sites, which would then require the user to input a password for the competition and watch it on their service. It was an imperfect solution, but it would have to. Those clarinet videos could be watched by anyone on Vimeo, so I had that going for me.
With things pretty much in place, I needed to find my audience. My plan was to offer free one-day trials of Natework and then $19.99 for the rest of the month, a little more expensive than other services, but for what I was providing I felt that it made sense. Price withstanding, I had to actually convince people they needed to pay for what I was offering. First, I asked my Dad, who questioned the legality of the whole thing. I then asked my Mom, who asked me if I’d thought about re-enrolling in community college. Then I asked my three brothers who said, in this order: “No,” “You’re weird,” and “I don’t understand why you did this.” I was dejected and saddened by the tepid response, but I also knew that they weren’t exactly my target audience.
That’s when I took to putting flyers around town advertising Natework and everything changed.
Kidding, nothing changed! No one ever visited the URL, like, not one single person. But somehow someone from Disney did send me a stern letter about copyright infringement as it related to the episodes of Home Improvement I had recreated. I’m not sure how they did so without a single view registering on the site, but somehow it happened.
Nevertheless, I took everything down and put Natework in the rearview. But all of this CNN stuff has brought back some memories. It has me thinking.
In the words of Nick Carraway, “whenever you feel like criticizing someone for starting a streaming service, remember, not every streaming service has had the advantages you have.” Whether it be a titan of industry like CNN or a guy from Southwestern Wisconsin who’s lived at home for too long, it’s not easy. Good God, is it not easy.
As for me, I’m on to the next big idea: The Nateverse. It’s basically the Metaverse but with more Nate. Details to come!