Depending on your definition of the phrase “Netflix and chill," taking some time out to binge watch your favorite shows should be a rather relaxing endeavor. However, that could change soon now that Netflix plans to create 700 new original TV shows and movies in 2018. According to CFO David Wells, an increased production budget will provide users with more options than ever before, but through this approach, the company also run a real risk of exhausting viewers with a case of “Netflix Fatigue."
South Park recently joked that Netflix employees will greenlight a new show to anyone who calls them on the phone, but the gag is now all too real. In March alone, more than 50 Netflix originals are set to hit the streaming service and those numbers will only grow as the year moves forward. While budget increases and a wider selection of originals hint at a promising future for the streaming service, the reality is that this new focus on extra content could mean that Netflix is in more trouble than people realize.
Why Is Netflix Producing 700 Originals In 2018?
Back when Netflix first offered a standalone streaming service in November 2010, there weren’t too many rivals on the scene and the company quickly became a giant in the industry. Fast forward to March 2, 2018, and Netflix stock prices have surged to an all time high, but strong competition looms on the horizon.
Netflix may be the reigning champion for now thanks to a subscriber base of 117.6 million users, but these subscribers only care about one thing and it’s not brand loyalty. At the end of the day, audiences will always select the streaming service that shares the best content, which is why a focus on exclusive programming is more important than ever before. Both Hulu and Amazon recognize this, pouring their budget into shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Transparent. Neither can compete yet though with the expansive catalog of originals that Netflix has already produced, winning both acclaim and industry recognition with the likes of Stranger Things, The Crown and Master of None.
However, it’s not just HBO and Amazon that Netflix has to worry about these days. Last year’s revelation that Disney will launch a streaming service of their own caused an instant drop in Netflix stock and prompted some outlets to immediately crown Disney as the undisputed winner of the streaming war. Not only will Disney remove all of their shows and movies from Netflix to stream on their own service, but they’ll also develop their own exclusive programming that will revolve around some of the world’s biggest franchises, including Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars.
The library of movie titles accessible on Netflix has already shrunk in recent years thanks to an increase in licensing costs. Now that the service will also lose its Disney-related content while fending off competition from other streaming giants, subscriber numbers will undoubtedly be affected in the long run and there’s a chance that not even extra original content can keep Netflix on top.
Hidden Figures Reveal Average Viewing Time Is Already On The Decrease
Netflix has notoriously kept its viewing figures secret for the most part, even disputing positive reports from Nielsen that suggest shows like House of Cards draw in similar numbers to popular shows on TV. However, it’s often customary for the streaming giant to reveal random statistics at the end of each year, and some of these may have just inadvertently revealed that viewing time on the site has dramatically decreased.
At the end of 2015, Netflix announced that their 74.7 million users at the time had watched 42.5 billion hours of content over the year, which suggests that each individual account had watched roughly 570 hours per year. Comparable figures weren’t released in 2016, but at the end of 2017, Netflix revealed that 109 million users watched 1 billion hours of content per week last year. The numbers aren’t perfect thanks to the fact that people share accounts and that sign-ups occur throughout the year. However, Tech Crunch argues that these figures reveal average viewing times have decreased from 570 hours to 480 hours per account each year. It seems then that users are actually binging less as Netflix continues to expand its library.
If Nielsen’s data is to be believed, then two of the company’s biggest original ventures this year also drew in disappointing figures. Despite being revealed during the heavily watched 2018 Super Bowl, surprise sequel The Cloverfield Paradox only gained 5 million views in its first week online and the highly anticipated sci-fi show Altered Carbon also underperformed, only drawing in 2.5 million viewers after one week.
What’s most fascinating about these figures is that the premiere of Altered Carbon kicked off strong with a solid 5.9 million average viewers, but a huge drop-off meant that only 1 million stuck around for the finale. While these projects aren’t representative of the entire Netflix catalog, this kind of decrease in viewers isn’t just unique to Altered Carbon and points to a larger problem for the streaming giant, one which piling on 700 more original shows won’t fix.
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
One of the biggest Netflix success stories so far has been their Marvel superhero line-up, which initially included the likes of Daredevil and Jessica Jones before expanding to include the entire Defenders roster.
While the first three seasons of these shows scored an average of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, the last three entries have only scraped a score of 52% on the same site. While this is partly due to the overwhelmingly negative response that Season 1 of Iron Fist received, the truth is that interest in these shows has been waning for a while thanks largely to one specific criticism that can also be levelled at the majority of Netflix originals in general.
Almost every single Marvel Netflix show stretches its story out for far too long across the span of 13 episodes. Time and time again, critics have noted that the glacial pacing of these stories drags out for far longer than necessary around the midway mark and even The Defenders was accused of padding, despite only lasting for eight episodes. Without external pressure from advertisers and broadcast networks, Netflix shows such as Luke Cage and even non-superhero related fare like Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life suffer from lackluster editing that risks alienating audiences bored by the filler material - unless of course this is a deliberate ploy to keep subscribers on site for longer.
This consistent refusal to chop out unnecessary scenes and even entire episodes has become symptomatic of a wider issue that leads back to the incoming deluge of Netflix originals heading our way. Instead of taking time at the beginning to focus on quality and nurture a small number of shows to greatness, Netflix has been forced instead to finally start cancelling some of their many underperforming shows so that the budget can be diverted to even more originals.
That doesn’t mean Netflix has finally learned how to kill its darlings though. Just last year, Chief content officer Ted Sarandos told Variety that the number of cancellations will increase as more shows are added to the service, but it’s hard to imagine that many of the upcoming shows scheduled among the 700 originals will be cancelled any time soon given that Netflix has renewed 93% of their originals to date.
Less Is More
It could be argued that increasing the number of shows produced will also increase the chances of good shows being made, but it’s also possible that such an approach will dilute the quality of the programming on offer and any projects that do turn out strong are then more likely to be overlooked in an increasingly vast and overwhelming library of original content. As it is, the most ardent Netflix binger couldn’t possibly hope to watch every single original show and movie without overlooking simple things like friends and sleep.
A survey back in 2016 revealed that Netflix viewers take twice as long to choose what they want to watch compared to traditional audiences, wasting 18 minutes each session compared to 9 minutes on a regular TV. We already spend so much time working through the shows in our Netflix queues and sorting through recommendations from both our friends and the site itself. Imagine how much more exhausting this process will be once 700 more originals are thrown into the mix. Combine all that with a new recommendation system which users claim is no longer effective and it’s clear that Netflix may soon struggle to retain users who decide to go “chill” elsewhere.
At the end of the day, Netflix cares more about luring in new subscribers who pay a monthly fee than improving viewership with current users. By increasing the money that they’re willing to spend on marketing and by creating 700 new originals scheduled to air over the course of 2018, Netflix seem to be looking for quick fixes that will increase their number of subscribers and secure their increasingly rocky future in the face of overwhelming competition.
In reality though, less is always more, and it’s a shame that Netflix are unwilling to admit that. Instead of churning out hundreds of originals in the hope that some will turn out be successful, Netflix would stand a far better chance at holding onto their crown by focusing on quality over quantity. Making less shows with shorter episodes that are more concise in their impact could improve their reputation in the long run and therefore stave off competition from the likes of Disney and Hulu.
FX original programming president Nick Grad declared last year that Netflix “can’t have 10,000 shows on!” and he’s right, but that won’t stop them from trying. At this rate though, we’re going to start throwing up if we binge too much.
For more Netflix news, check out the trailer for 'Lost in Space.'