Lots of negative publicity lately for Netflix. Just two weeks ago, I praised Netflix and called it the “#1 streamer … [at] the top of the … heap”. (That was only two weeks ago.)
The competition–HBO Max, Paramount Plus, and others–are stealing Netflix’s programming thunder (they’re now streaming the catalog titles Netflix used to offer) and its subscribers. The competitors boast lower prices, great content, linear programming (such as Paramount Plus, which offers access to live CBS network television), live sports, and an underrated, but ever-important aspect: how friendly the company is to the customers/members/subscribers who pay them every month.
As I see it, there are four reasons Netflix is struggling:
- It keeps losing catalog content, and its original series are lacking. (It’s true; Netflix’s shows, even the ones I like, like Ozark, have a lot of filler.)
- It keeps raising prices.
- It’s becoming unfriendly to subscribers (more about this below).
- One website puts it succinctly: “Netflix can’t renew your favorite shows, but it can spend $30 million per episode of Stranger Things.”
The last point is a sore spot. Due to the pandemic and other unforeseen turns of events, Netflix canceled GLOW, one of my favorite TV series, ever, on the platform. It was a fairly lightweight show, but that’s what made it enjoyable, and the carpet was pulled out from under it just when season 3 ended in a romantic cliffhanger of sorts.
I’ve never been able to watch a single episode of Stranger Things. I don’t find myself connecting with the story (or vice versa?), but I genuinely enjoyed GLOW and miss it. Perhaps this is why Netflix is having trouble: canceling the lower-budget shows people like to watch (but likely aren’t huge earners for the firm), while keeping in place the mega-expensive tentpole productions that get all the headlines (the same strategy was employed by HBO with Game of Thrones).
Also worth a mention here: there are a lot of documentaries, comedy specials, non-scripted programming and some movies available on Netflix that you know none of the other big streamers would touch. In the interest of not going down any rabbit holes of controversial topics, I’m not going to mention any titles here, but if you follow the news, you’ve probably heard some names in the past year or three.
I made a point in that previous post to mention I’d probably never let my Netflix subscription expire. Funny enough, just a few days later it did. When I went back online to update my payment method and restart the membership, Netflix literally would not restart my membership. In fact, they wouldn’t accept any form(s) of payment I entered into the membership screen. I opened a chat session with a customer service agent; they told me my account would be locked out for 24 hours! Because of “too many invalid payment attempts”. After a few Google searches, I discovered that Netflix no longer accepts payments from my particular financial institution. How bizarre!
Becoming paying-customer-unfriendly is just one part of what could be driving subscribers away. Canceling shows like GLOW is another, as is, of course, raising prices. Also, cracking down on password sharing (which I personally never did, but knew people who do) won’t win the company any fans. (Viewers who go to the trouble to use shared passwords to access Netflix aren’t likely to become paying subscribers when they lose access to their accounts. Rather, they’ll likely go to a competing streaming service or, worse, resort to piracy.)
One area in which I do give Netflix credit is their movie division. I liked 2020’s Mank, an Oscar-nominated drama/comedy about the co-writer of Citizen Kane. I also liked 2019’s El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which Netflix produced. (El Camino is good… so good, I’m considering giving it an “A” rating when I publish a review of it in a few weeks. It’s light-years better than Felina, the final episode of Breaking Bad, and really saves(d) the series for me.) (I’ll write more about Breaking Bad in general, and Felina in particular, in a later blog post.)
Netflix’s ability to craft good movies from former TV series stands in contrast to an outlet like HBO, which produced 2021’s The Many Saints of Newark, a The Sopranos spinoff (prequel) movie I found to be a bit lacking. (I plan to publish a review of Saints also… someday.)
So… Netflix does produce good content: their movies and (some of their) series. Here’s the big question: will good content be enough to stop subscriber churn? Or draw in new customers? I hope so. Netflix still occupies an important position among the big streamers: it has content no one else will touch, and some of it is quite good. So, yes, I hope things turn around in positive way for Netflix. I hope it remains independent (there are current rumors Apple or some other tech giant might make a play to acquire it).
Other ideas… maybe a price lock would be a good idea, or an annual subscription with a discount, or… maybe friendlier policies toward ex-subscribers trying to restart their memberships? Who knows? It can’t hurt. And maybe someday they’ll renew GLOW for one more season. (I’d probably even accept a Deadwood-style reunion movie that wraps up all the loose story threads.)
Someone mentioned ads being a possibility in Netflix’s future. Subscribers who dropped Netflix aren’t going to be lured back by a lower-cost ad-supported tier. (At least, I don’t think they will.) But, my other thought is: every square inch of Netflix’s app and website is an ad for Netflix. There’s even a Netflix screensaver on the Fire TV (my streaming device of choice) app. Many ads on an ad-supported Netflix tier probably won’t get noticed by a sizable percentage of users. So hey, maybe lower-cost ad-supported pricing’s the way to go? Shrug.