San Antonio Netflix and Chills with Reed Hastings Friday Night
Friday night, while families and couples around the city settled into comfy couches and armchairs to watch their favorite series on Netflix, throngs of techies filed into the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre on St. Mary’s street downtown to see the “Father of Binge Television” himself, Reed Hastings. While a storm swirled around the historic downtown theater, attendees grabbed drinks from the venue’s back bar and commiserated with each other about the coming presentation. Many snapped selfies in their seats and marveled at the sizable venue being filled to capacity by members of the San Antonio tech community craning to hear from a man who’s innovative communication method reshaped the 21st Century entertainment industry model as well as the way people around the world view their media of choice on a daily basis.
David Heard, the CEO of TechBloc, an organization founded four years ago to promote San Antonio’s growing tech sector, provided the introductions for the night. “Mr. Reed is in downtown San Antonio, Texas!” announced Heard to the substantial crowd, eliciting a rhapsodic roar from those in attendance. He then went on to thank the sponsors who helped make the night a reality, including the 80/20 Foundation, Geekdom Media, USAA, H-E-B Digital, and Rackspace. While he addressed the audience, Hastings, sitting in the front row of the theater next to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, clapped and showed his approval for the way the night’s event was unfolding.
Eventually, Heard introduced Mayor Ron Nirenberg who presented Hastings with SA’s first “Digital Key to the City.” After proudly accepting the mayor’s honor, Hastings took his seat towards the right side of the stage followed by Graham Weston, founder of Rackspace and prominent San Antonio businessman, who would serve as the evening’s moderator for the interview with Mr. Hastings.
The questions from Mr. Weston began with inquiries about the future of Netflix and their competition with HBO. “Graham, Graham, Graham, you are thinking too small. Our ambition is not to knock off HBO. Our ambition is to be the best entertainment company. To when you want to relax, we want you to be turning on Netflix,” stated Hastings. Hastings further responded by describing how HBO was trapped by their old business model in terms of not releasing shows all at once, such as with their Game of Thrones series. Graham backed up Hasting’s statement by emphasizing that “binge watching is innovation” and that he sees Hastings as an innovator.
Eventually, the conversation moved on to the founding of Netflix. Hastings recounted how his first idea for an invention was a computer mouse operated by your feet instead of your hands. Imagining a future where people all around the world would be saving time by not having to remove their hands from the keyboard when working, Hastings believed that his invention would succeed. However, his “foot mouse” idea ended up presenting more problems than solutions in terms of practicality and, as such, he ended up scrapping the idea. Using this incident as an example of perseverance, he urged entrepreneurs not to give up when one of their ideas doesn’t work, but instead to keep “trying to solve the problems that you see.” He later went on to reflect on his success, proclaiming, “The greatest day of my life is when Blockbuster declared bankruptcy!” The crowd erupted in applause in response to this assertion while Hastings smiled back and nodded his head.
Another portion of the night’s questions revolved around the future of original programming for Netflix. Hastings described how, “In entertainment, it’s about joy and connection. So we’d rather have one winning show, rather than ten not-winning shows.” Emphasizing the adage of ‘quality over quantity,” Reed talked with fervor about how he it is more important to him to have a few well-produced shows versus a lot of under-produced shows.
Eventually, the evening turned its attention towards education. With KIPP: Texas being one of the main sponsors for the night’s event, Hastings and Weston took some time to talk about the future of education in the city and the country. Eventually, Weston got up to leave the stage, but before making his exit, he stated that he would give $2 to every $1 that TechBloc members donate to KIPP schools and $3 to every $1 if they decided to take a tour of a KIPP campus. After this, David Heard came back to emphasize the importance of education to the TechBloc community and to welcome Lorenzo Gomez of Geekdom Media who would be moderating the conversation between two other panelists: Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP San Antonio and Sehba Ali, CEO of KIPP Texas.
Their conversation revolved around the work that is being done at KIPP Schools across the state as well as the educational disparities that exist in San Antonio. “This is not an issue of talent, it is an issue of opportunity,” said Larson, as he described the lack of opportunities for advancement available to children in lower income parts of San Antonio and the work that KIPP schools are doing to try to help them succeed. “We are the most segregated city in America,” continued Larson. “Today if you live in 78207 which is about half a mile west of here (the Empire theatre) or you live in 7258 which is in Stone Oak, your life expectancy difference is 25 years. That’s real. This is not third world. This is our own city. And much of that traces to the options you have for choice of life and education.”
The evening wrapped up on a hopeful note with Sehba Ali urging the crowd to go vote (in the municipal election) and to encourage others to vote as well. “Use your voice, because your voice matters,” urged Ali. “Advocate for the things that you believe in…for our children. Because they need advocates like you.”
After the talk wrapped up, attendees made their way down Houston Street to Playland Pizza where they enjoyed complimentary appetizers and pizza in addition to special drinks the downtown eatery had prepared for the night. Here, those who had listened to the talk reminisced and spoke with impassioned voices about helping the city and working towards a brighter future for San Antonio.