Column: Netflix’s quarterly loss and our love-hate relationship

It’s rare for those of us outside of the world of high finance to feel deep satisfaction in the financial status of a company that doesn’t write our own checks. But the recent Netflix quarterly report was, in many ways, a matter of bad news equaling good news and beauty.

The streamer has lost 970,000 subscribers over the past few months, nearly four times the number recorded in the last quarter, providing conclusive proof that it’s not some supernatural juggernaut immune to the slings and darts of outrageous luck — or its own blunders is.

But the loss fell far short of the 2 million Netflix had predicted, a number that would suggest the kind of free fall no industry likes to see.

Neither does the entertainment industry, which has had a love-hate relationship with Netflix for years. Or the media reporting on it, who have very mixed feelings about the streamer.

The cast of Bridgerton.

Some of the Bridgerton cast members in the Netflix series.

(Liam Daniel / Netflix)

Like many people, I experienced a mild, shameful chill when Netflix unexpectedly suffered its first major financial setback earlier this year — losing 200,000 subscribers and a 60% drop in its share price. I’d stop describing it as upbeat (although I got plenty of messages from people in Hollywood who didn’t), but it was definitely upbeat, albeit with guilt, because Netflix reacted, as companies always do when the Profits fall, lay people off.

Ted Sarandos may be a millionaire, but most people who work for Netflix aren’t.

And it’s not that I don’t like the streamer; Some of my favorite shows are on Netflix. During my years as a television critic, I have watched the company revolutionize the creative and financial model of television in countless ways, including and most notably demystifying closed captioning that has literally opened up new worlds for American viewers. (While Vince Gilligan honestly thanks Netflix for helping Breaking Bad find an audience remains as good a justification as ever.)

Once it got into the original content business, Netflix offered a more affordable — and populist — alternative to HBO and other premium cable networks that invented the notion of “prestige” TV and dominated that part of the industry for years.

Still, Netflix has always been a little irritating. In its early years, it required critics to sign a non-disclosure agreement, something no other platform has ever done for the simple reason that it’s absurd. The binge model it developed for original shows made it difficult for people to consistently talk about, let alone write about, a new series without being accused of “spoiling” something. With its reliance on short seasons, Netflix — and then other streamers — made life difficult for creators and crew, many of whom were struggling to cobble together a living that had evolved around the traditional 23-episode series.

With Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, Netflix has set the template for streamers to lure top broadcast and cable talent with absurdly high-paying deals in a way that seems designed to exhaust the competition as much as boost its own quality (and ” Bridgerton” notwithstanding). , not decided yet). His obsessive desire for awards helped turn the Emmys race into a distillation of the worst-ever Oscar race — big-money campaigns that drew attention to a worryingly limited body of work.

Its algorithms are absurd, its library is becoming increasingly cluttered with junk while certain popular shows have been canceled after their third season, and it hasn’t helped that its CEO has had the privilege of writing condescending memos lately, explaining, why it’s important that comedy is allowed to exploit oppression of certain groups.

But at the root of most people’s mixed feelings about Netflix lies in its dominance; Americans love a winner—but not so much an unfair advantage. Within a decade, Netflix had gone from a rowdy innovator that relied mostly on content generated by other networks and studios to an industry powerhouse that ruthlessly competes for Emmys, Oscars, and every square inch of the television landscape it gets can.

For those who don’t believe in the corrupting nature of power, there are approximately 875 Netflix shows that illustrate the concept.

So this quarterly report was perfect in that the streamer’s world dominance received another check, but not a deathblow (hope there are no more layoffs here). Because nobody in their right mind wants Netflix to fail.

Well, maybe some heads from other media companies. The streaming wars are now akin to the Battle of the Five Armies (if Tolkien had added a few extra ranks to represent Peacock, AMC+ and Paramount+) and Netflix has suffered, particularly as other platforms get their original content back.

In this fight, however, it’s important to remember that Netflix is ​​the only platform selling one thing: creative online content. While much of that content still comes from deals with other content producers, it’s not part of an empire built on, and still fueled by, home delivery or movie franchises and theme parks or laptops and cell phones. She makes television but has no network, makes films but does not own a theater chain.

Netflix recently announced that – like many other streamers – it will be offering a cheaper subscription plan with ads. Which could make Netflix an online-only version of a broadcasting network over time.

The consumer always benefits when there’s competition, although streamers have added the pursuit of consumer money to television’s traditional competition for eyeballs.

With the help of HBO Max, HBO continues to dominate the television awards race, if not its subscription base, and the beauty of Empire-backed platforms like Amazon and Apple TV+ lies in their ability to swing really big without worrying too much about money close. Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel will be by far the most expensive TV ever produced; If it fails, many people will be sad, but Amazon’s bottom line will not falter.

With that in mind, Netflix’s meteoric rise is even more amazing. As is the fact that it remains the only streaming service that relies solely on itself, not beholden to any morning show or sporting event, or to any other brand, product, or service.

Netflix, for all its shortcomings and irritations, is as pure a purveyor of creative content as it gets in this conglomerate-dominated world.

And that has to be worth something. Column: Netflix’s quarterly loss and our love-hate relationship

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