Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What Happened to Netflix?

Netflix wants to get exclusive.

According to CFO David Wells, the platform plans to go all-in on its growing slate of original programming, which includes popular television shows like “Orange Is the New Black” and “Jessica Jones” and its less successful film lineup. In 2014, Netflix offered Adam Sandler a four-picture deal that produced critical duds like “The Ridiculous 6” and “The Do-Over.” The company, which has struggled with a consistent brand model, has also produced misfires like the toothless Ricky Gervais satire “Special Correspondents” and “XOXO,” a saccharine love letter to EDM. The recent “Tallulah,” a sharply observed Ellen Page dramedy about a slacker who accidentally kidnaps a baby, though, has shown Netflix to be headed in the right direction. 

Wells, addressing the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference on Thursday, said that the company’s goal is a 50/50 divide between Originals and licensed content, the library of contemporary and classic films on which the platform made its name. He claimed that Netflix is “one third to halfway” to reaching that mark. 

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has been a longtime Netflix subscriber. When the service, which launched in 1997, gained in popularity in the early to mid-2000s, it was marketed on its boundlessness. Here was a company that could provide consumers what their local video store couldn’t—a seemingly endless catalog of films. If Ed, the guy with the spaghetti hair at the corner Blockbuster Video, thought Fellini was a type of cocktail, Netflix had “8 ½” and “City of Women” available whenever you wanted, provided you had made your peace with the capricious whims of the U.S. postal service. 

In 2016, DVDs have become a niche service for Netflix, with just 4.5 million subscribers left. The platform even tried to spin its mail service off into a different company with the failed launch of Qwikster in 2011. 

Streaming offered an incredible opportunity for the industry leader to bring its coveted library to a mass audience, but that promise has never quite materialized. The appeal of Spotify, for instance, is that the music streaming service offers nearly every song to which you could dream of listening, as long as it isn’t produced by Taylor Swift. If the new Frank Ocean, BeyoncĂ©, or Kanye West album isn’t available—due to exclusive deals through Spotify’s competitors—just wait a couple of weeks. It will be.

 That utopic vision of infinite access was perhaps never possible for Netflix, as The Verge’s Bryan Bishop astutely points out. The streaming wars have gone too nuclear—with the company’s rivals shelling out unthinkable sums to play keep-away from the biggest kid on the block. Housing all nine seasons of “Seinfeld” cost Hulu $180 million, while Amazon is home to critically acclaimed shows like “Mr. Robot” and “Orphan Black.” Netflix, though, has backed away from its ever-shrinking digital library with a fierce intensity reserved usually for Donald Trump gaffes. Its film selection of today is less enviable than serviceable, filled with the kinds of movies one might watch drunk on a plane (see: “The Switch,” “Scary Movie”). “Netflix is no longer where you go to find something great,” Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle once wrote, “it’s where you go to kill some time with whatever it has available.” There are gems in each section, to be sure, and it’s hard to harbor a grudge toward any streaming platform that houses Otto Preminger’s stupendous film noir “Laura,” the best movie ever made about a guy who wants to have sex with a painting.

If Netflix killed its DVD selection, which in turn killed the video store, the service never devised a sustainable way to replace either one of those options, and it’s no longer trying.

by Nico Lang, Salon | Read more:
Image: uncredited