There’s a lot of talk about so-called ‘cancel culture’ these days, but the main thing that is being cancelled seems to be Netflix. There’s no doubt that we are living in a period that it would be an understatement to describe as ‘tumultuous’. Even so, it is still quite shocking to see the brand go from hero to zero overnight.
Okay, that’s a teensy bit of an overstatement, but Netflix recently lost 200,000 subscribers and more look likely to follow. In the great scheme of things, 200,000 might not sound like a huge loss but it must be said that Netflix had said it expected to gain 2.5 million viewers during the same period. So okay, viewed in that context, I can see that is quite bad. When you factor in a cost of living crisis that will soon drive all of us to make some quite hard choices about what we spend our money on, things start to look potentially a little grim.
However, in a bid to cheer Netflix up, I would like to hereby announce that I am NOT cancelling Netflix. Yet. Yes, I will continue to use it, at least as long as my electric bill remains in only three figures per month, and I am not having to pay £200 for a bag of plain flour and a handful of mouldy turnips. But that is not necessarily good news for Netflix, and here is why.
The problem is that I am probably completely the wrong type of customer, as far as the floundering streaming service is concerned. I only use it to watch violent old films and gently maturing TV shows that I already saw on the BBC in the early 00s. I would go so far to say that I was way ahead of the curve when it comes to Netflix’s original content, because I have always thought it was pretty mediocre. The selection of movies and programmes made by people who aren't Netflix remains excellent, however, with everything from acclaimed dramas such as Better Call Saul to lunatic anime such as the original Evangelion TV series in its entirety, and a never-ending list of cracking movies for every imaginable taste.
Even though I like Netflix's massive buffet of older content, I still prefer Amazon Prime. That's because Amazon Prime is where James Bond, Jack Reacher and other gentlemanly-yet-violent types reside. So much so that I went to the effort of compiling a guide to the best movies for men on Amazon Prime, which is a pretty sad use of my time, really.
Now the rest of the world has caught up with me, with Johnny-come-latelies queuing up to join my not-watching-Netflix-original-content bandwagon. But let me tell you: I was into not liking Netflix’s own stuff way before you were.
There’s no doubt that the media and social media frenzy that’s accompanied Netflix’s recent iffy results has greatly amplified the extent of its problems. It’s almost as if people have been waiting to give the brand a kicking. The sad thing for Netflix is a lot of the things users and commentators are now complaining about are exactly what made it great in the first place.
Suddenly, nobody likes that Netflix places entire series online in one bingeable go, rather than rationing out episodes weekly. Now it’s a bad thing that it relentlessly trys new concepts and bins them off with extreme prejudice if they’re not hitting the spot. Now people are clamouring to have adverts, so they can pay less for their subscription.
I also can’t help but feel a little sorry for Netflix that they get so much hate for trying to stop people sharing their log-in details with their parents, kids and friends. Although perhaps they should have realised, as they knowingly ignored their own rules as they went hell-for-leather for growth that if you let people have something for free they love it a lot more than if they have to pay £15 a month for it.
Presumably if more and more people unsubscribe from Netflix, there will eventually come a point where they will make fewer new shows, and on lower budgets. Let's imagine how that could end.
Eventually, the once bright and shining star of streaming video will be reduced to a state rather like 1990s British TV. Stale, cheap, weekly shows with ad breaks, made to appeal to the broadest and most undiscerning audience feasible, on the lowest budget possible.
However, so long as I can watch the likes of Carlito’s Way, Heat, Life of Brian and The Who’s Tommy in pristine HD or sometimes even 4K, I’ll be just happy enough to not quite be able to be bothered to cancel. The brand that redefined broadcasting will be reduced to The Movies For Dads Channel.
This hypothetical end game would be a good result for me, but it's probably not a goal Netflix wants to work towards. I hope they can turn things around quickly, but the economic and technological moment that propelled the brand to pre-eminence may now have passed for the foreseeable future.