Netflix boomed in the early 2010s, radically changing the television industry through the mass appeal of streaming on-demand. A decade later, the same streaming model that proved so bountiful threatens to kill the very foundations to which the company succeeded.
Before Netflix and other streaming platforms — such as Hulu and Amazon Prime Video — launched their own original series, the company’s biggest strength came in its outsourced catalogue. Consumers discovered legacy hits and ongoing hitters in droves.
The initial model created a phenomenon in the “Netflix Effect.” Overnight, shows that had limited followings exploded into the mainstream thanks to the wide consumer base of Netflix. This effect has had a long-lasting impact, bolstering recent hits “Riverdale” and “Schitt’s Creek” from obscurity to household names.
With its fast and loose business model, Netflix has become a successful business that has knocked linear television down a peg. But in its wake, the streaming giant has done more damage to the business than good. Creating flashy, short-lived shows will keep Netflix’s name in the game for a good while, but history will remember the vast majority of Netflix originals as nothing more than underbaked.
A 2019 Deadline article revealed Netflix’s business-sense in capping their original series at two or three seasons, unless in special cases. The company opts to pay most production costs upfront, frontloading the process. Once the shows become too expensive, Netflix simply creates new ones instead of continuing with an established series, according to Deadline. This business model has led to an overwhelming amount of Netflix originals but very few legacy hits.
As Netflix’s price point continues to skyrocket and new services arise to strip the company of its lifeblood, the days of Netflix leading the game may soon cease to exist. With “Friends” sailing ship to HBO Max and “The Office” tiptoeing to Peacock, the heavy hitters Netflix has relied on no longer will shield its weak original catalogue.
The risky business model that has seen the company in regular debt often proved to be of reward, but recent forecasts sing a different tune. A disappointing second quarter in which the company shed $19 billion in market value may be the tipping point on a long way down.
Netflix helped existing hits “The Office” and “Grey’s Anatomy” become cultural tentpoles. The service ushered “Parks & Recreation” from the ashes of relative obscurity into a modern mainstay. But what legacy is Netflix leaving for itself by canceling almost all of its series at 30 episodes or less?
No matter how good, a show with such a small episode count can’t become more than a cult classic. Take “Arrested Development,” a show whose linear ratings were tepid at best in its initial run on FOX in the early 2000s. The show found a renaissance as a niche hit through a Netflix revival, yet it still can’t stand with “Will & Grace” and “Seinfeld” as a household name in comedy.
Netflix creates water-cooler moments but fails to capitalize on momentum. With so much output canceled after six to 10 episodes, series rarely get a chance to grow. Of the services’ most prolific shows, “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” predate the current model’s brutal kill list.
Ultimately, no one’s going to remember most Netflix originals as classics — or remember them at all. Most troublingly, the Netflix model has shot traditional television in the foot, all the while using the business as a stepping stool.
Without network television, Netflix never would’ve gained relevance. Even now, as the service thrives internationally in part due to a distribution deal with the CW, the streaming company still holds itself up on the feet of broadcast television.
Linear television ratings have plummeted in recent years as people cancel their cable subscriptions and transition into the streaming era. Although Netflix actively accelerates the death of broadcast television, it’s not ready to take over in content creation. The service has excelled in capturing audiences for miniature spans of time, but rarely has a Netflix hit maintained cultural interests.
“Emily in Paris” was a cute three days but will Netflix ever produce a drama as sustainably buzzy as “ER?” Does Netflix have the capability of nurturing syndicated-classics like “Law & Order: SVU?” If the last decade has said anything, the answer is no.
Going forward, Netflix has two options: invest in nurturing originals to have a shelf-life longer than an avocado, or continue on its slow decline, watching as the companies it catapulted past slowly creep back up, ready to take back their throne.