Netflix isn't doing so well right now. Shutting down its Russian operation lost it thousands of subscribers, and the cost of living crisis is making many of us rethink what we can and can't afford. Faced with a drop in subscriber numbers for the first time in a decade, Netflix's solution appears to be to penalise its existing customers.
Netflix is down 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of this year, when it predicted it'd add 2.5 million – and it says it might lose another 2 million subscribers in the next quarter, too.
According to Netflix, the problem is at least partly down to people like me, people who have multiple users on the same account. Or as I like to call them, my kids.
We predicted this last year, and as our very own Robert Jones wrote a few weeks ago the plan is to charge even more for the ability to use your Netflix account in multiple locations. As Rob wrote: "Netflix's most expensive subscription tier allows for four streams to be used at once, which means that theoretically the account owner could share their account with three other people/households without having their own viewing interrupted."
I know the joke is that everybody's using the Netflix account of their ex's parents, but while I'm sure a few people do that I think it's much more likely that password sharing is happening within families that aren't necessarily all in the same place at the same time. It certainly is in mine.
I'm no Netflix newbie: I've had a subscription since 2012. But today it's the most expensive of all the streaming services I subscribe to: I have the 4K HDR version so that's coming in at three times the price of Apple TV+, double Disney+ and twice the price of Amazon Prime Video. If Netflix thinks I'm going to pay even more for my kids' viewing, they're out of their minds.
Passwords aren't the problem
We're supposed to be beyond the days when your accounts – such as your TV service or your phone – were tied to a physical address. Remember when we used to telephone buildings? Crazy times.
My Apple TV+ account, my Disney+ account and my Amazon Prime account are available to me and my kids wherever we happen to be – so if my kids want to watch a cartoon or a movie at their gran's, or in the car, or on a bus, they can. And like many kids their parents aren't together any more, so my kids' logins are used on the same devices at their mum's house as well as at mine. My kids are still part of my household even when they're not physically here.
Cracking down on account sharing might get a slight increase in income, but it's got nothing to do with Netflix's subscriber slowdown. Yes, Russia, yes cost of living. But I think fundamentally, Netflix's stellar growth is slowing because it's not the only game in town any more, and its rivals are very compelling. Now that Netflix has lost Marvel and Apple's making great shows like Severance and Slow Horses, Netflix is no longer the must-have network – and its own original programming lives in fear of being canned as soon as the new sign-ups stop. A lot of Netflix's other Originals aren't things Netflix has commissioned itself: they're bought in from the places that actually made them, such as AMC or the BBC.
The comedy section in particular feels like I'm browsing the iPlayer back catalogue, interspersed with the odd special by millionaire comedians punching down on marginalised groups. If you're as old as I am you might recognise the feeling I get when I'm looking for something to watch: it's the Friday night in the petrol station video shop when all the blockbusters are already gone and there's only a Roy Chubby Brown VHS and a Disney film about talking dogs.
Sure, there's the odd Squid Game or Umbrella Academy. But for every one of those there's a decent series that Netflix killed just as people got gripped amid a whole bunch of things that were on BBC 2 in the 1990s. It feels like today Netflix is focused entirely on growth, on increasing subscriber numbers above all else, on canning new series as soon as they stop delivering new sign-ups. In an increasingly saturated streaming market, that can't be sustainable – and I'm sure I'm not the only person already wondering if I'm really getting value for money any more. Stopping my kids from using my account would be the final straw for me.