With increasing competition in the streaming landscape from all sides, Netflix faces a dilemma. For the first time, it has real competition. For ages, it maintained a status-quo with Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. All three services managed to co-exist in the market. Now, though, things are changing rapidly. Hulu is now under Disney’s control; Disney already owned 30%, but with the fox buyout it obtained another 30%, making it the majority shareholder, and thus gaining control of the company. It also bought out Comcast’s stake, further increasing its ownership. With Disney’s significant financial backing, Hulu is now a serious threat (especially because Disney plans to use Hulu for it’s more mature content that won’t fit with Disney+’s family-friendly focus). And speaking of Disney+, that’s another major competitor to Netflix. And then we get into all the networks and multimedia conglomerates starting their own streaming services, and in many cases pulling their content off of Netflix in order to do so. NBC is starting Peacock, Warner Media is starting HBO Max, and CBS already has CBS All-Access.
With all of this competition, what is Netflix to do? They’ve been canceling shows left and right with reckless abandon. If you look at a lot of Netflix’s shows, many of them don’t last more than a handful of seasons. A couple of noteworthy standouts, like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things, but many of Netflix’s newer shows don’t last very long. The kicker is that these are good, well-received shows. They probably lost viewers as the shows went on, but that can easily be attributed to any number of factors, including less and less marketing (and let’s be honest, Netflix isn’t exactly known for doing big marketing blitzes). There’s also the fact that Netflix drops entire seasons in one go, preferring to have customers binge-watch a show. This is all well and good, and I do enjoy a good Netflix binge, but there is something to be said for weekly releases.
As a kid, I would watch a LOT of Saturday morning cartoons and a LOT of Toonami. These were situations where episodes were typically released on a weekly basis. When you finish an episode, you have to wait. This actually created anticipation for me. I was a HUGE Digimon fan as a kid (if I’m being honest, I still am). I remember once I was on vacation with my parents. I had convinced them to give me the hotel room tv for a half hour to watch Digimon. I remember being so enthralled with that episode that when it ended, I couldn’t wait for the next one, only to realize I had to wait a whole week. By the time that next episode rolled around, I was practically bouncing off the walls with excitement (I was a very active child, in all the wrong ways). Having to wait a week between episodes served to keep me interested. If I had binge-watched the show, I would have lost interest after about 10-20 episodes. It happens all the time. I get really into a show, watch as much of it as I can, and then eventually lose interest and switch to something else. It’s not because the show got boring, it’s because I just got tapped out and needed a break. More often than not I end up coming back to that show eventually, even if it’s years later. Right now I’m trying to finish up Voltron on Netflix (great show by the way) but took a break to watch the newest season of Disenchantment (also a great show)
The point I’m trying to make here is that perhaps releasing episodes on a weekly basis would help with overall engagement. It could help to keep people watching longer and make them look forward to the next episode. Not only that, but it creates conversations online. I would go to school the next day and talk to my friends (friend?) about the latest episode of Dragon Ball Z. And by talk, I mean we reenacted it on the playground. These kinds of conversations, whether they happen online or off, help to keep people interested and create excitement. It’s these conversations that keep fandoms alive. By getting overall engagement up, Netflix would cancel shows less often.
Another point to consider is perhaps Netflix should scale down the quantity of what it offers. When you look at the sheer number of shows and movies available on the platform, it’s absolutely overwhelming. There’s every genre, subgenre, and niche-genre. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps the focus should be on quality and not quantity. How many of those shows or movies are actually any good? I would argue, and this is probably an unpopular opinion, that most of the Adam Sandler movies on Netflix are not great. Admittedly I’m biased because frankly I just don’t like his new movies. Sure, when you’re cooking pancakes for dinner alone on a Saturday night, they’re great for killing time (don’t you judge me. Pancakes can be eaten at any time of day), but they’re not exactly quality movies.
Amazon is investing millions of dollars into a Lord of the Rings show. That’s going to be positively massive in scale and scope. Disney is spending god knows how many millions of dollars on its original programs; The Mandalorian has an insane budget, well north of $100 million. Each episode of The Mandalorian costs a staggering $15 million. Apple, a company worth trillions, is starting its own streaming service and pouring billions into its content. When was the last time Netflix spent that kind of money on a single show? Sure, they invest somewhere around $15 billion overall, but they spend less per show than other services do. Sure, Disney, Amazon, and Apple are massive companies that are probably 10x the size of Netflix with the budget to throw around billions of dollars like its pocket change, but Netflix is no slouch either. These massive companies are all starting out small, though. None of them are releasing the sheer volume of content as Netflix. Amazon doesn’t release anywhere near the quantity that Netflix does with its originals, and both Disney and Apple are starting small as well. Despite that, the budgets they’re pouring into these programs are gargantuan, far bigger than anything Netflix has ever spent on a property.
What if Netflix scaled back? What if they poured an insane amount of money into a new original program and marketed the hell out of it? Instead of just stealth-dropping a new season with little to no fanfare, what if they built that up? What if they marketed it and created hype? Teasing it for months? As it stands right now, they’ll announce a new season and then just go silent for a year, then a month beforehand, sometimes even just a week or two, drop a new trailer. That’s not going to do them any good in the long run. For shows like Stranger Things, they have months worth of marketing. But they need more shows like Stranger Things. They need more tentpole shows; more shows that cost an insane amount of money but draws in viewers. Right now they don’t have many.
Here’s another totally crazy thought. What if Netflix completely overhauled its platform in a fundamental way? Here’s what I’m envisioning: The ability to create and share playlists with friends, and consequently turning into a more social platform. I know, I know. It sounds ludicrous, but hear me out. Take the following example: I’m a huge, huge, HUGE Star Trek fan. Like, massive. There are so many aspects of the franchise that I love. Sometimes I’m in the mood to watch episodes focusing on the borg, or on Q, or Data, or any number of other characters or themes. In order to do this today, I have to search through all the seasons of all the shows and pick out the episodes I want, and that can take hours when you’re talking about the entire Star Trek canon. What if I could simply create a playlist? Similar to a queue, except that it’s smaller and sharable if desired (or not, if you just want to keep it private. You do you). Start a playlist and gather up all the episodes focusing on Q (you’d only have to do this once). The playlist can then be shared with your friends or even teachers (I actually assembled a list of star trek episodes for a sociology professor in college looking to get into the show). Your friends could like and comment on your playlist.
Additionally, what if Netflix had a comments section? Any sort of way to communicate with other fans? They could create Hubs based around specific fandoms or shows, allowing fans to watch shows and movies based around that fandom, and start conversations. This would help with overall engagement on the platform; more people would be using it, and potentially for longer periods of time. More importantly, the ability to share playlists outside of Netflix allows for new people to be drawn to the platform.
There’s no doubt that Netflix has some serious competition on the horizon, and most of it is from companies with deep enough pockets that they can just wait Netflix out until it’s been bled dry. If they try to maintain the status quo, I don’t believe Netflix will survive. They have to start fighting, investing and changing. My ideas may not be the right ones. That’s ok. I might be out of my mind (probably am). There is no doubt in my mind, though, that Netflix’s future is more than a little uncertain.