I don't know about you but I've thoroughly enjoyed Stranger Things Season 4 on Netflix. I've been watching it with my daughter and, as she's the perfect age to empathise with the show's teen protagonists, she's there with them.
I, like my daughter, have been looking forward to watching the show each week on a Friday night, although while she's desperate to see if the kids are going to be alright, and not get horribly got by the show's big bad, I'm really just checking in for Steve's hair.
But, I digress.
Honestly, I've been buoyed to see the success of Stranger Things Season 4 for Netflix as, simply put, as of late it has been a total blood bath for the streaming service, with subscribers leaving in droves, content being stripped mercilessly out of its library, projects cancelled, staff being fired and rivals growing at its expense.
But, in my opinion at least, it's really hard not to see Stranger Things Season 4's success as something that is only helpful for Netflix in the most short term time period. This is because I think Stranger Things is actually an embodiment of exactly why Netflix is currently in such dire straits.
It reminds very much of that classic The Simpsons line from Homer: "Ah beer. The cause of and the solution to all of life's problems."
Because, as has been well documented, Stranger Things Season 4 reportedly cost Netflix 30 million U.S. dollars to make per episode. That's an estimated $270 million for a 9-episode series.
That's a phenomenal amount of money to spend on a TV show in the best of times, but when you're firing staff, putting up prices, losing subscribers and watching your lead slip over rivals like Disney Plus and Prime Video, it becomes even more noticeable.
And, the truth is, Netflix has got used to spending incredible amounts of money on content (13.6 billion reportedly in 2021) over the last decade.
The thing is, though, not only can Netflix reportedly not spend like it used to on shows anymore, but it can't outspend its biggest rivals in today's streaming market, either. Unlike 10 years ago (heck, even 5 years ago!) when Netflix had pretty much free reign over the streaming market, with no major competitors, it is now facing an ever-growing quantity of juggernauts that can outspend it, comfortably.
My jaw hit the flaw when I recently read that Prime Video's new Lord of the Rings TV show has been estimated to cost, with marketing and everything else included, going on 1 billion U.S. dollars. 1 billion! I mean, holy moly.
Meanwhile, the absolutely massive corporate juggernaut that is Disney (current net worth estimated at $97 billion), which owns Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and much more besides, is directly funnelling its billions into producing/acquiring content for Disney Plus. Honestly, when you just start to list the originals shows Disney Plus has pushed out over the last year, from Loki and WandaVision to Obi-Wan and The Mandalorian, and it's evident Netflix won't be able to outspend the House of Mouse consistently if at all.
Then there's the big movements we're seeing from Peacock, Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount+ and more, all which have fat backing by huge companies. Basically, Netflix is a bit like the ancient Lydian king Croesus – for a long time it was the richest, most powerful entity in town, but then Persian king Cyrus the Great rolled in (read Prime Video, Disney Plus et al) and suddenly it isn't the richest top dog anymore.
So taking comfort from the success of a show that cost a phenomenal amount of money to make, when you're not going to be able spend as much money going forward and your competitors can outspend you as well, doesn't feel like a long-term solution to Netflix's woes.
From my perspective, I think Netflix needs to quickly realise that going forward it's going to be need to get a lot smarter with how it makes content, and really focus on quality – like what Apple is doing with Apple TV+.
My favourite show of 2022 so far has been Severance on Apple TV+, and while we don't know exactly how much that show cost to make, it sure looks like it didn't cost $30 million per episode. In fact, it looks like a great example of how to make really engaging TV for a really modest budget.
Basically, to my mind, Netflix needs to start using its money better while it still has - just - a market lead in terms of subscribers over other services, and really focus on quality. It needs shows that despite a modest production budget cut through with good scripting, acting and direction. Because as good as Stranger Things has been, Netflix has a history of big budget flops, or show that's simply ended up being OK despite a large financial outlay.
Each streaming service will always have their own hero shows, I get that, such as Stranger Things on Netflix, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime Video and Obi-Wan on Disney Plus. And obviously budgets will (and should) be higher for these prestige shows.
But at the end of the day the thing that will keep people subscribed to your streaming service is not how much a show cost to make, but rather the quality of shows that can be watched. And I feel Netflix needs to keep this front and centre in its mind when commissioning new content going forward, as it is evident it can't keep acting as it has any more as the streaming service industry has changed massively.
Stranger Things has been a great show, but with it reportedly ending after the 5th and final series, Netflix will not be able to rely on it much longer and, as I hope I've explained in this piece, in my mind it really shouldn't be leaning on it going forward at all, as to me it feels just as much of a problem for Netflix as a solution.