ANAfter years of exponential growth, Netflix reported Tuesday that it had lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade. The announcement spooked Wall Street and sent shares down more than 35%, wiping out more than $50 billion in market capitalization from a company whose shares had already fallen more than 40% for the year.
To explain the recession, Netflix posited everything from the war in Ukraine to people sharing passwords. But what if the reason is much simpler: that Netflix isn’t really making a lot of people want to watch more?
It’s been a long time since Netflix was the complete package: home to prized sitcoms like The Office, animated dramas like House of Cards, the exclusive venue for movie events like Bird Box, and all for less than $10 a month. Now, as the value of the streaming service plummets, the big question is: are you still watching? And if so, what exactly?
I certainly find it more difficult to answer that question. The other night, as I spent 10 minutes scrolling through a show that helped me sleep: Ozark (ugh), Ultimatum (hard pass), Serial Killer with Piers Morgan (ouch), I felt like a cable TV viewer of the 90s, wandering aimlessly for something, anythingwatch.
Given that NBC brought back The Office and HBO Max did the same with Friends, well, you can’t exactly say that the emperor has not content. It’s just that Netflix’s whole approach favors quantity over quality.
Critical hits like The Crown, Black Mirror, and Russian Doll started a while ago and the new seasons can’t quite capture the excitement of the previous episodes. Netflix’s attempts to recapture the hype have been spotty: Space Force promised big stars (Steve Carrell, John Malkovich) to send a laughable Trump-era show, but ultimately fell through. Sex/Life is softcore porn without much of a story, an eight-hour episode of the Red Shoe Diaries. Bridgerton, for all the creative remixes of it, is still working from an outdated archetype, the period drama. Netflix movies are also not worth recommending. Netflix’s star-studded, Oscar-nominated centerpiece Don’t Look Up, equally harsh in its environmentalism and Adam McKay’s directorial tics, is a tough sell.
Even as the company has tried to play it safe with big talent stolen from other networks, Netflix hasn’t necessarily stoked fears of missing out. Netflix’s $60 million man Dave Chappelle caused the streamer more trouble than he was worth with a 2021 comedy special that lit up the trans community. Meanwhile, all the expensive so-called streaming records like Will Smith’s 2017 sci-fi drama Bright (which cost $90 million) or the overblown dramas stemming from Ryan Murphy’s $300 million deal prove subscribers will watch anything. with a huge star attached simply because it’s available on Netflix; It doesn’t matter if they’re good.
Netflix is not just a media company. It ranks right up there with electricity and the telephone on the list of inventions that changed humanity, a cure for boredom Y laziness. When going to the video rental store became too tedious, he delivered DVDs directly to our mailboxes. When the mailbox became too heavy, it delivered the same content directly to our televisions and laptops. He not only made our favorite movies and TV reruns available to us around the clock while creating high caliber original programming. It did all of this consistently enough for us to ditch terrestrial television en masse.
But ever since Netflix changed home entertainment forever, rival media companies have scrambled to develop their own streaming apps, many of them arguably better value than Netflix. HBO Max not only has exquisitely designed television (Euphoria, Last Week Tonight) and the entire Warner Bros library at your disposal; has The Batman and other blockbuster movies six weeks after their theatrical release. Disney+ doggedly reuses the Star Wars and Marvel universes, the kind of IP Netflix could only dream of. Paramount+ includes the NFL, March Madness and the Champions League. Prime Video comes free with subscriptions to continue with expedited shipping. With each new studio subscription app, Netflix becomes more of a victim of its own success.
It took a lot of ups and downs before Netflix finally bagged its first major award for original programming, the pilot episode of House of Cards taking home a 2013 Emmy for best directing. Apple TV+ has been around for barely five minutes, and yet Ted Lasso and Coda cleaned up this awards season. In general, Apple seems to have invested the entire proportion of Netflix, doing more with less.
This is not to say that the competition has completely overtaken Netflix. As someone who was once unashamed to buy DVDs from vendors on subway platforms, I love that Netflix is picking up Nollywood hits like How to Ruin Christmas and reviving One on One, Half & Half and other cherished black comedies from my adolescence. Even some of the original programming deserves support. The Upshaws is a laugh-out-loud sitcom that could do with more critical attention.
Netflix is also on a roll in the reality TV department with Love Is Blind, Is It Cake? and other variations of the genre. Formula 1: Drive to Survive also belongs in Netflix’s win column; the sport owes much of its resurgence in popularity to the behind-the-scenes series. And yet, Netflix still has nothing on Bravo, VH1, Lifetime, and other cable stalwarts in the wig-stealing, drink-throwing department.
Beyond a handful of titles, there’s not much to keep viewers tuned into Netflix other than habit, which is pretty much where a lot of them were with the cord before they cut the cord and downloaded the app. Netflix used to be great, a real disruptor. But success has made him fat and boring, with an inordinate appetite for ever lower calorie content. It has become what you once despised: just another expensive TV package. That’s not to say people won’t be watching. But surely more must be thinking about it.