OPINIONBusinessApril 30, 2022

The main problem with Netflix? It’s just not that good any more


The global streaming giant blames everything from increasing competition to the war in Ukraine for its declining subscriber numbers. But its main problem may be much closer to home.

Death, divorce, serial killers and sex offenders. On a quiet Friday night in, I just wanted to watch some television – but Netflix didn’t want me to chill.

Among the shows I was offered up by the algorithm driving the world’s top streaming service were grim documentaries Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes and Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story, Korean splatter-fest All Of Us Are Dead and perhaps the bleakest of the lot, reality show The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On. 

For a fun change of pace, it also suggested I try the documentary World War II In Colour.

Some of the grim shit on offer on Netflix right now. (Screengrab:

I was scrolling because I had some free time to kill. But I also wanted to know what was going on. I last used Netflix a few months ago to binge the first part of Ozark’s final season, and everything seemed normal. Netflix offered good shows, and I watched them. That was the deal I signed up for. It seemed to be working.

But last week the company seemed to implode, announcing a net loss of subscribers for the first time in its history. Then it lost 35% of its share price. It hasn’t recovered, the headlines have been vicious, and Netflix doesn’t seem to have seen any of this coming – or have a plan to stop it.

“Well, it’s a bitch,” shrugged CEO Reed Hastings to staff before admitting ad-supported subscription models and anti-password sharing measures are on their way. If that sounds like too little, too late, that’s because it probably is.

What’s going on? Has Netflix changed? Or have we? To find out, I started scrolling.

Netflix tried to tempt me with Jason Segel’s home invasion comedy Windfall (“A huge misfire,” according to Rotten Tomatoes). It tried to hook me in with season two of Space Force, the sub-par Steve Carrell comedy (“It was bad, and it is still bad. Maybe even worse.”). Then it tried to get me to watch Hard Cell, Catherine Tate’s women’s prison comedy that has an 11% approval rating (“This is one show that should remain behind bars.”). 

I found the Coming Soon section, the place where Netflix should be showing off the absolute best of what’s in its unrivalled $17b content pipeline. In mystery series The 7 Lives of Lea, a young woman wakes up the 90s and tries to solve a murder. In Danish comedy Baby Fever, a fertility doctor “drunkenly inseminates herself with her ex-boyfriend’s sperm”. In stand-up special Nothing Personal, David Spade talks about how hard it is being a rich white man.

Then there’s Man vs Bee, in which Rowan Atkinson attempts to take down a bumblebee. For 10 episodes.

Yes, you read that correctly. Ten episodes. Of this…

Man Vs Bee
Rowan Atkinson arms himself with a fish slice in Man Vs Bee.

Initially, Netflix hooked customers in by promoting expensive prestige TV offerings like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Making a Murderer.  Then it dropped entire seasons at once to enhance bingeability. These shows won viewers, critical acclaim and awards. It changed the way we watched TV, and now competitors all use variations on this exact model.

But all these new shows with big budgets and terrible reviews that I found on a boring Friday night show how much Netflix has slipped. Its last really big hit, Squid Game, came out in back September. Ozark, The Crown and Stranger Things are all coming to the end of their runs, and aside from Bridgerton, no new shows have bubbled up to the surface to take their place. That suggests Netflix isn’t going for quality, it’s going for quantity.

For every Sweet Tooth, there are dozens of bad shows cheapening the service. Sure, shows like Nailed It, Is This Cake, Too Hot to Handle and The Floor is Lava are good for a laugh, but you can’t build a streaming service off the back of them. Worse, promising shows are being cancelled before they’ve had a chance to find their fanbase. Where’s the third season of black comedy The End of the F***ing World? Or the excellently brutal zombie show Black Summer? What happened to Glow? And Cowboy Bebop?

All these unfinished shows are expensive mistakes, and that fickleness is an efficient way to turn off subscribers.

In its bid to become a Needful Things of streaming services, Netflix has forgotten what it does best and left the door open for others to fill that gap. Amazon Prime Video is producing plenty of great shows, and it has the big-budget adaptation of Lord of the Rings coming soon. Disney+ has the entire cinematic universes of Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and The Simpsons. Locally, Neon has the bulk of HBO’s content, plus new seasons of Atlanta and Better Call Saul.

Then there’s Apple TV+, which is on a roll right now. It just won the best picture Oscar for Coda, delivered the year’s best show so far in Severance, and has followed it up with solid spy drama Slow Horses and the wildly entertaining tech series WeCrashed. Next month, it drops the David Attenborough-narrated series Prehistoric Planet – excitement among the kids in our house couldn’t be higher.

Where Netflix used to stand in a field of its own, there’s now an abundance of options. And if the company wants an explanation for last week’s disastrous numbers, it only has to look as far as its own homepage for the answer.

Content is king. Forget that, and you’ll quickly lose your crown.

Keep going!