Netflix Hires Fake Fanatics, Gets Busted

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Netflix may not be celebrating competitor Blockbuster’s demise on Thursday as the online movie rental giant is currently dealing with its own public relations nightmare.

It seems Netflix hired actors to act really excited about the launch of its online streaming service in Canada on Wednesday. The fake fans were given written instructions to gush about the website to reporters covering the Canadian Launch Party in Toronto. According to a one-page handout, they were encouraged to act as certain archetypes, including mothers, film buffs, tech geeks and couch potatoes.

“Extras are to behave as members of the public, out and about enjoying their day-to-day life, who happen upon a street event for Netflix and stop by to check it out,” the information sheet, published on Forbes, reads.  “Extras are to look really excited, particularly if asked by media to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada.”

Company spokesman Steve Swasey acknowledged the theatrics, but maintained that Netflix didn’t mean to mislead reporters. Apparently, in order to qualify for a permit that allowed the company to shut the street down, Netflix told the city they were making a corporate documentary. Supposedly, the extras on set were to be filmed for that documentary, not in interviews conducted by outside reporters, though the information sheet seems to directly contradict that.  

Swasey said he wasn’t sure who was actually responsible for instructing the extras to do the media Interviews, but apologized for the deception.

“The launch included the shooting of a corporate video with some hired extras, who, it turns out, were given improper direction to talk with the news media about their enthusiasm for the Netflix service,” Swasey wrote on the company blog.  “We're sorry that our misfire has given Canadians any reasons to doubt our authenticity or our sincerity.”

While we’re inclined to forgive the company for its publicity stunt gone awry – nobody, after all, is perfect – we can’t figure out why Netflix needed fake fans in the first place. After all, we’ve seen lots of Canadian Netflix lovers going on and on about how excited they are that the service has finally come to the great white north. 

Perhaps the company was just trying to create jobs in the recession.

Does Netflix’s bad PR move make you nostaligic for Blockbuster? Indulge your anger in this MainStreet article, Blockbuster: The End of an Era.

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