Funny story. In a 2018 interview with Empire Magazine, actor Guy Pearce said, “I don’t think Netflix likes the term ‘binge’” adding that “we were strictly sort of instructed beforehand not to talk about ‘binge-watching.’” This is the same service that invented binge-watching.
What’s the deal, Netflix?
We’re four years and, it seems, lifetimes away from that Pearce-ing glimpse into Netflix’s psyche, which may or may not make the comments seem prescient, given the streaming titan’s current troubles. Recent reports and its own remarks have bingers on the edge of their seats.
Normally, that’s precisely where Netflix wants us — on the edge of our seats — deeply engaged in its shows. Since the entire first season of “House of Cards” was put live in 2013, it’s been how we consume shows on streaming. It’s sacrosanct. So why all the talk of no more binge releases?
That’s fairly obvious to anyone who’s been binging the news on Netflix, whose own subscriber drama is almost as compelling as “Downton Abbey.” That just departed Netflix, incidentally.
Despite the record-breaking May binge release of “Stranger Things,” on Wednesday (June 15), CNBC reported that “Netflix is struggling to jumpstart subscriber growth. So, its binge strategy is facing new scrutiny as the company looks for ways to better retain its subscriber base.”
In early June, Peter Friedlander, Netflix’s head of scripted series for the U.S. and Canada told Variety that “We fundamentally believe that we want to give our members the choice in how they view, and so giving them that option on these scripted series to watch as much as they want to watch when they watch it, is still fundamental to what we want to provide.”
He added that “when you see something like a batched season with ‘Stranger Things,’ this is our attempt at making sure we can get shows out quicker to the members.”
So that’s a ‘yes’ to continuing binge release? Maybe. Maybe not. And let’s not forget the small matter of commercials possibly coming to the platform. If you don’t quite grasp the concept, picture a new form of network TV that you pay to watch. Early adopters will be all over it.
As for the rest, guess we’ll find out when that episode drops.
Streaming’s Moment of Truth
After losing 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter and issuing guidance that the number could mushroom to two million by the end of Q2 rapidly approaching, and now faced with an elite group of rivals that don’t subscribe to binge release — Disney+, HBO Max and Hulu among them — Netflix appears trapped, much like “The Umbrella Academy” is in every single episode.
If you think they won’t tinker with the model — ads, the end of binging, etc. — we refer you to comments made by Netflix Co-CEO Reed Hastings on its April 2022 earnings call.
Hastings told analysts: “Those who have followed Netflix know that I’ve been against the complexity of advertising and a big fan of the simplicity of subscription. But as much I’m a fan of that, I’m a bigger fan of consumer choice.”
He added that “allowing consumers who would like to have a lower price and are advertising-tolerant [to] get what they want makes a lot of sense. So that’s something we’re looking at now. We’re trying to figure [it] out over the next year or two. But think of us as quite open to offering even lower prices with advertising as a consumer choice.”
Positioning the pivot as “consumer choice” sounds very aligned with a connected economy zeitgeist, which we love, but there are a few coarse expressions that may also apply. We’ll have to wait for the Q2 earnings call in July to see how things are trending since. Be optimistic.
If they do go for a less expensive subscription tier with commercials, we have suggestions for the Netflix advertising team to save time, effort, and get some of those lovely ad dollars.
When “Squid Game” season two premiers — in 2023 or 2024 they’re saying — we submit Red Lobster as the sole sponsor. Similarly, “Ozark” represents a unique opportunity for the Missouri Division of Tourism to attract visitors — even though it was filmed in Georgia. Also, any number of attorneys would pony up for a commercial break during “Better Call Saul,” like those behind the infamous “who can I sue?” billboards gracing stretches of I-95 on the East Coast.
We could do this all day.
If the binge-watching, commercial-averse hordes who made Netflix into what it is today are forced to adjust to a new experience, will that save the ship or make it sink more?
Tune in for answers in July. Netflix is definitely not binge-releasing bad news.