Netflix has become synonymous with streaming the way Q-tips are for cotton swabs. Netflix started as a more convenient alternative to Blockbuster (eating it alive), and now they make their own stuff, sending shockwaves of fear throughout the entertainment industry.
However, according to a new study, the majority of their viewers use it to watch classics like The Office and Friends. In fact, some people have said they would leave the service if they lost The Office or Friends.
Netflix isn’t going anywhere anytime soon but new streaming services such as upcoming Disney+ (all things Disney and Marvel and Star Wars, oh my!) and Warner Media (Friends, almost everything else) streaming services.
But, what does Netflix have if it doesn’t have those things? How are they building a base of content to keep us Netflix-and-chilling ad infinitum?
The bulk of Netflix’s streaming content is acquired.
That means some other entity produced it and Netflix paid for the rights to “air” it for a set amount of years. Until 2012, all of their content was acquired and then they started producing on their own. But, even after that, they continued to make acquisition deals for shows such as Friends.
You know how it seems like every night you can watch Seinfeld?
Acquisitions are not unique to Netflix, or other streamers. Before streaming, cable networks spent a lot of money on acquisitions. Fun fact: the Seinfeld syndication package was one of the biggest ever.
The Simpsons sale to FXX is actually the biggest syndication package.
No one else had the rights to air The Simpsons for 25 years until FX bought them a few years ago for the GDP of a small country.
Now, Netflix is the home for many syndicated shows that we all grew up with.
And now they’re the shows we fall asleep to. Instead of watching Law & Order reruns on the couch with my dad after work, I fall asleep to Frasier and Niles arguing about which opera had the biggest impact on their world view.
Netflix acquired Friends in 2015, the news of which brought a tsunami of nostalgia.
When it was announced that Friends would be on Netflix, the internet exploded: think pieces on how it has stood the test of time, gifs galore, rankings of the episodes (the trivia game episode is obviously number one), and, of course, oral histories.
Netflix has had the rights to The Office as far back as 2011.
The Office has long been one of Netflix’s most popular shows. It’s the ultimate put-it-on-and-do-laundry show, the best “I’m tired” show, the best comedy in the past 20 years.
The Office has even found a fan base in Gen Z who met the show through Netflix.
Billie Eilish, the hottest singer in her generation, used The Office in one of her songs. Steve Carrell signed off personally.
Even if those are the biggest classic streaming shows on Netflix, they have so many other rewatchables.
The biggest issue with Netflix is that you can scroll forever and never land on something because it all sounds great. The paradox of choice is a real thing.
In 2012, Netflix began to make their own content.
Their first project was a co-production called Lilyhammer, shot in Norway. It wasn’t critically slammed but it didn’t break through in a big way. However, the co-production was a way for them to ease into making their own shows.
Their first, solely-them scripted show was House Of Cards in 2013.
It was a huge show that announced Netflix is A Serious Network. Kevin Spacey, pre-#metoo, was a massive get for them. Robin Wright is incredible in the series. And the first episode was directed by the award-winning David Fincher.
Then, they came out with two more shows that year, each splashy in its own way.
First, Hemlock Grove, a horror drama from Eli Roth. Netflix announced that it had more viewers in its first weekend than House of Cards. However, the critics slammed it. On the site Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus of the first season was: “Hemlock Grove is an ugly, unpleasant affair that throws crazy ideas together without much forethought.”
And then came Orange is the New Black, a gigantic critical AND viewer hit.
Jenji Kohan (Weeds), created Orange is the New Black based on a book of the same name. And, this show didn’t have movie stars, but that was the point: Netflix was willing to take chances! This almost all-female cast, full of diverse faces looked and felt different than anything on TV, streaming or otherwise.
Since then, they’ve come out with more original shows than you can count.
Using their algorithm, Netflix targets the exact audience that would watch their original shows based on their diet of syndicated shows. They have more viewer data than any other streamer, because of their years of tracking. So, they’re in this unique position of making TV according to the math of engagement. It would be cool if it didn’t have a whiff of dystopia.
If you’re someone who tends to watch Strong Female Leads, they targeted Russian Doll.
And they would not be wrong. Such an incredible show. But, I wonder how much my repeated viewing of 30 Rock and Heathers told them I was a shoo-in.
If you like Problematic Male Anti-Heroes but Funny, you probably heard of BoJack Horseman.
Ironic that its theme song starts with “back in the nineties, I was in a very famous TV show” since most of the content on Netflix’s site is very famous TV shows from the 90s. It feels a little like a snake eating itself.
Now, Netflix has even moved to movies.
Who said the rom-com was dead? If you’ve spent hours in front of Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, and Julia Roberts, Netflix has decided they’re your Night King. Set It Up and The Kissing Booth did well for them leading to a ton of articles about the Rom Com Renaissance.
Some of their movies have broken through in a big way. Like, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.
The star of TATBILB, Noah Centineo, was adorned The Internet’s Boyfriend after the movie became the sleeper hit of the summer. His Twitter reads like how you wanted your high school boyfriend to fantasize about you. Because everyone could stay home and watch this movie on repeat, over the few weeks after its release, Noah’s follower count zoomed into the millions.
And, a few of its movies have been significant awards contenders
Roma was the first Netflix movie to win an Academy Award. Director Alfonso Cuaron said of Netflix, “platforms like Netflix are bringing a diversity — a diversity that was getting lost in our theatrical experience.” Directors and writers turn to Netflix for freedom.
But, is all of their new content enough to keep the service going in the wake of losing old school comedies?
At the end of a long day, most people go to what’s familiar and sometimes that’s Steve Carrell or Jennifer Aniston. Even if some of Netflix’s new shows are interesting or smart or funny, they haven’t existed since the time when Must See TV Thursday really was Must See.
After the success of Netflix and Hulu, more and more content buyers are creating their own streaming platforms.
Disney is launching Disney + later this year which will be the home for the library of Disney movies, plus Marvel and Star Wars. They recently acquired Fox, so even more titles, as they free up from syndication deals with other streamers, will probably migrate to Disney+ as well.
Without the base of Nostalgic TV, it’s unknown how many people will stay with Netflix.
In a recent poll, up to 49% of people said they would quit Netflix if they lost The Office, Friends, and Disney, all of which they are set to lose over the next year or two.
Even cable networks depend on syndicated TV shows for ad revenue.
Often the most watched programming on cable is not the splashy original shows but the old broadcast stalwarts, like CSI and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Will people continue to pay Netflix if it devolves to solely original programming? Maybe if they can hang on to their movies. Even HBO and Showtime offer recent and classic movies with their subscriptions to subsidize their original programming.
The thing about TV shows is they air for such a long time that as a viewer you feel connected to the characters on screen.
The Office ran for nine years. Seinfeld ran for nine. Friends, ten, Frasier eleven. That’s more consistent than most people’s friendships or romantic relationships.
Rachel Green started on Friends as a silly shopaholic.
She ran away from her wedding in her dress to crash with her friend Monica for a few days. She was still dependent on her dad for money and had absolutely no job experience.
By the end of the series, she had become a leader in her industry with a job offer in Paris.
Which she gave up for Ross, just like LC gave it up for Jason. Tip to the ladies, always take the job in Paris. Trust me, it’s a good rule.
Michael Scott was insufferable at first.
He was racist, sexist, and inept. He was at best annoying to his coworkers and at times, outright abusive. First season Michael Scott probably couldn’t be written that way in 2019.
But by the time he left the show, he was so endearing.
Who wasn’t crying during that proposal scene?! To paraphrase Phoebe, he found his lobster! And, it was believable that everyone in his office loved him and cared about his happiness. That’s the kind of slow, patient character growth that you can see on TV.
Netflix is designed to be watched at home, usually in bed or on the couch.
It’s meant to be an intimate viewing experience. Unlike Going to the Movies, TV lives in your living room at the furthest or in your lap, if you’re watching on a device.
People want to watch things at home in bed that make them comfortable.
Who better to make you comfortable than people you’ve known most of your life? So the question is: if you can have Friends, or Parks, or The Office, or 30 Rock though Warner or Universal and you have to decide which app to pay for, is Netflix still the answer?
Have we just reverted to the existing cable box model?
Disney+ launches later this year. So we’ll find out soon enough.
Warner Media and Universal are soon to follow after that. But, until your faves leave Netflix, curl up with a friend and CHILL.