Netflix’s chic geek

Summer 2016
Angela Morgenstern ’97

(Photo by Brian Ness)

Angela Morgenstern ’97

Toggling between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, Angela Morgenstern ’97 describes her job as “part chic, part geek.” As Netflix’s director of product innovation, original content, she helps shape “the experience of Netflix around the globe.” On the tech side, that involves customizing the user experience — including features like personalized menus and the post-play before the next episode starts. “I partner with analysts to test everything from how we present a new program, to how far out we show it, to whom we show it to,” she said.

The more glamorous part of the job requires Morgenstern to meet with stars like Adam Sandler and Paul Reubens to discuss how to present their new work. “[We talk about] what we can do online, how to help Netflix members discover new programs they’ll love, and, ultimately, how to drive more viewing,” she said.

Morgenstern’s niche is original content: feature films, documentaries, and local/global content. Past experiences working at PBS, MTV, Al Jazeera, and several San Francisco start-ups have primed her for Netflix.

Rolling onto campus in late March to guest lecture for a career services leadership course (see Work & Play), Morgenstern also sat down with the Scene. Here are some clips from her visit.

The Graduate
I worked on the launch of the PBS Frontline World site. We put a lot of innovative content online — everything from the aftermath of the Cambodian genocide to post-9/11 global stories. It was a great example of the mediums working together.

Working Girl
After working for PBS, I joined a media start-up called Current TV. Current started doing user-generated content before it was a “thing” (pre-YouTube) and was creating nonfiction programming across different platforms. They were acquired by Al Jazeera, and I became EVP of product and innovation, helping them launch a new website and mobile applications. I left to go back to the start-up community in San Francisco.

Inside Out
Part of our job is interacting with different personalities, show runners, and talent. They’ve come to Netflix in part because they’re interested in distributing in a new way. So we walk them through the process and listen to their vision.

Office Space
I’m in the Los Gatos office (San Francisco Bay area), which feels like a technology company. My colleagues are tech-driven, and our conversations are evidence-based, data-driven, and analytical in nature. But every two weeks, I go to the Beverly Hills office, which handles marketing, content, and PR. Even though we’re one culture, [each has a] different ethos.

Miss Congeniality
I’ve learned to adapt and lead in different organizations’ environments. There’s one way of influencing and engaging people at MTV, where you’re having parties until five o’clock in the morning, versus Al Jazeera, where you’re in a multicultural environment with people from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Netflix just turned on the switch to go global in January — all countries, essentially, except China — which means we have a variety of offices and colleagues. We’re learning as we evolve.

Liberal Arts
At a business dinner recently, the CEO referenced great thinkers whom I had (luckily) read about at Colgate and debated. [That happens] all the time, like when we’re talking about how Joseph Campbell’s myth is related to a feature film we’re working on. As an English major, I read all the classics. [But I also] took philosophy of law and philosophy of religion, and those two courses influenced me tremendously. Media is a powerful tool that has a huge impact on society, so we’re constantly considering the ethical issues, and having a grounding in philosophical thinking is important. Colgate taught me to think analytically and also pursue creative passion. It wasn’t one particular class; it was the constellation.

Best in Show
A big part of my job is watching Netflix when I get home. I’m a fan of Bloodline. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is fun. I have the privilege of watching a lot of Netflix documentaries, like Making a Murderer, before they premiere. I love our original content, like Jessica Jones.

— Aleta Mayne