The streamer has lost its way with its narrow creative vision and production of game shows, dating shows and reality shows
To the amazement of precisely no one, Stranger Things is now the most popular English-language Netflix series in the streaming platform’s history.
This is not box-fresh news. The record was set last month when Stranger Things 4 Volume 1 chalked up an incredible 286.79 million hours watched over the course of its first weekend.
While there’s no information yet on how season four’s final two supersized episodes, aka Volume 2, have been performing over the past five days, reports that the Netflix site crashed early on Friday speaks, well, volumes about the demand.
This will no doubt put smiles on the faces of the Netflix shareholders who watched the value of their shares plummet by 35pc in April when it emerged that the streaming company had lost 200,000 subscribers and expected to lose a few million more by the end of 2022.
Mind you, the 150 Netflix employees who lost their jobs as the company scrambled to slash costs, as well as the countless writers, directors, actors and production crews who had the plug pulled on their projects for the same reason, might be less well-disposed towards the success of Stranger Things 4, given it reportedly cost a mammoth $30m (£25m) per episode to make.
Netflix will enjoy a bounce from Stranger Things 4, just as it did last year from its surprise Korean megahit Squid Game, the only series to do similarly huge numbers. But what goes up must come down.
What happens when everyone in the world who wants to watch Stranger Things 4 has done so?
Will they patiently wait around for what’s likely to be between 15 and 18 months before the fifth and final season lands, or will they cancel their subscriptions and reactivate them when the time comes?
The advantage of streaming services for subscribers — which is a disadvantage for their shareholders — is that people can endlessly cancel and reactivate with ease, cherry-picking what they want to watch.
With so many streamers competing for our money in a time of economic uncertainty, the idea of dipping into different ones for a month here and there could appeal to people who can’t afford the luxury of one or more of them all year round.
Netflix is undoubtedly having problems. But it should have seen them coming, because those problems are all of its own making.
It didn’t create binge-watching (people were bingeing DVD boxsets long before we had streaming platforms), but it certainly encouraged it.
The result? The need to produce a huge number of original series every year in order to satisfy its ravenous subscribers.
When you’re pumping out content in that quantity, the first casualty is quality. The second is variety.
The belief that most people’s tastes are set in stone — the “if you liked that, you’ll like this” mindset — has narrowed Netflix’s creative vision. It’s certainly giving us more, but it’s often just more of the same. The success of Stranger Things led to a flood of horror/sci-fi series, many of which were cancelled after one or two seasons.
If one teen drama based on a YA novel becomes a hit, it inevitably begets a dozen or more not-so-good teen dramas based on YA novels that sink without trace. The global popularity of Squid Game means we can probably expect a glut of Korean dramas and yet more survivalist thrillers set in a dystopian future over the next two or three years.
On and on it goes, around and around in ever decreasing circles.
It wouldn’t be entirely fair to say that Netflix hasn’t diversified. The trouble is it’s diversified into game shows, dating shows and reality shows, the latest of which is something called Snowflake Mountain.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t sign up to Netflix all those years ago to be insulted with the same kind of rubbish I can find on Virgin Media 2 or ITV 2 for nothing.
Losing a few million subscribers might seem like a drop in the ocean to some people. However, it’s a drop in an ocean that is teeming with competitors, some costing as little as one-third of the price a month Netflix charges for a standard subscription.