With reports of 200,000 lost subscribers in its first quarter this year, Netflix’s stock has plunged lower than its average original movie rating. Excuses have been made, including the widespread use of password sharing (which has always been a factor) as well as the growth of competition in other streaming services and recent economic turmoil. To this end, they have warned the time may come to crack down on said sharing and maybe even consider ad-based revenue options (something that was initially marked as the anthisises of their model). Suffice to say, I can’t imagine these tactics winning any more admirers, especially considering how much their monthly subscription rates have increased in recent years. Indeed, it may be that Netflix has reached its peak and is on a decline, no matter what.
The problems lie externally as well as internally. How many other services are available now? The major contenders are Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV, Disney+, and Peacock. They have many attractions Netflix doesn’t and are (on average) cheaper, if with less content. (Just to note; film buffs hate this word and I’m not fond of it either as it cheapens the craft but for the purposes of discussing all this, we’ll stick with it.) Internally, the problem also arises from the model Netflix has adopted; to get as much content up as possible (no matter the quality). It seems like they have an original movie out every week now, as well as a plethora of true-crime docs-series, original TV series, and more. The choice is overwhelming. And many a watcher is dismayed when a show they do like gets cancelled after a couple of seasons. On this latter point, it may simply be a case of low numbers (which Netflix doesn’t release) but it could also be that unless it’s super popular (like “Stranger Things”) it’s not a cost-effective approach to drawing in and retaining subscribers. For one, actors’ salaries usually rise (by contract) at this point and two, it doesn’t move you on as fast to something else. Netflix starts up something straight away before you’ve even taken in a minute of end credits (undercutting the emotional tone of what you’ve just finished).
Plus, let’s face it- most of Netflix’s output isn’t that good. It’s C-grade fodder for filling time. Especially their movies- looking you at Kissing Booth, Kissing Booth 2, and Kissing Booth 3. HBO Max, undoubtedly, produces much higher quality material. Apple TV, despite a low range of original content, is showing promise in its investments. Disney+ is a whole other ball game, if primarily focused on franchises and animation. Prime, while messier, has a vast network of shows and movies that are close to rivalling Netflix (plus it’s cheaper). We’re heading into subjective territory here but the point is clear; there’s plenty of capable alternatives.
These alternatives have also taken back some of their original material from Netflix (at least in the US where Peacock and Hulu are available). This means beloved shows like “The Office” have been lost and considering the fandom there, that’s a major factor. A lot of people binge and re-watch that show regularly. These are natural retention properties. At least, they’re still holding onto Friends and Seinfeld. For now.
This piece has been harsh on Netflix, chiefly because they’re the kings of streaming still and have a soulless model… but in truth, the main point of interest in these streaming wars lies in the fact that the choice of platform is becoming as overwhelming as the choice of content on them. If you throw yourself back to the 2000s, piracy was the major issue. It remains one, though it became less talked about in this avenue because the likes of Netflix made things so cheap. Similar to the effect of Spotify on the music industry. Now, to get a hold of all the most desired content (“Succession” on HBO, “The Boys” on Prime, “Stranger Things” on Netflix, “The Office” on Peacock”, etc.) requires multiple accounts. It’s almost become counter-active in its appeal. This had led many to consider whether cable could be due a lucrative comeback to the top?
I’m not sure. Many shows are now streamed weekly but because Netflix popularised binge-watching (by releasing a season at once), the average viewer has probably lost a modicum of patience. On the other hand, Disney+ has opted to make their Marvel shows a week-by-week watch, like the good old days, and has seen dramatic success. HBO too follows that line. Maybe it’s as simple then as individual viewers making their mind up about what they truly want; prioritising their preference, based on budget- choosing one or a couple of platforms? This could result in a plain of healthy competition, where Netflix no longer leads. Undoubtedly however, we will see several platforms fall by the wayside (Peacock holding on to due “The Office” for now). Maybe (optimistically), Netflix will invest time in making better movies and less stuff like “Red Notice”, “Spenser Confidential”, “Bright”, and “Tall Girl”.