As the “N” of the ubiquitous “FANG” collection of video behemoths, Netflix news is usually going to grab some headlines. Such was the case here as well, when data concerning Netflix content shifts over the past decade came across our collective desk, via Reelgood.
Rather than just list out a few of the key data points, we figured a brief back-and-forth about the info was much more valuable. Below is a quick conversation about Netflix and the data, from TV[R]EV’s John Cassillo and Oriana Schwindt.
John: Looking at recent data from Reelgood, it’s interesting to see Netflix skew much more heavily into TV shows over the course of the last decade — though also not surprising. A movie requires more effort on the part of the user, while TV shows can be watched at a pace that the user can dictate to a greater extent. All the while, a TV show keeps you on the platform longer in aggregate time spent, even if not in one sitting.
Since Netflix isn’t ad-supported, the main draw to that approach is just keeping eyeballs (and as a result, subscribers) on the platform. However, if they opted to start supporting ads, this allows them to plug those into content that’s already better equipped for them. So despite the dip in total shows and movies on the platform over the last decade, there’s likely more actual hours of video content on Netflix now than there was back in 2010.
Oriana: You’ve nailed it, John: As more media producers seek to hold subscriber attention for as long as possible, the smart investment is TV series. Give a man a movie, he’ll watch Netflix for a couple hours. Give him a TV show, he’ll call out sick and watch Netflix for days. (This is also why Quibi doesn’t make sense to me, but I’ll leave that for another conversation.)
This need to keep eyeballs — attention is a zero-sum game — is also why those movie numbers are plummeting. Sure, a single movie is shorter than a show, but for studios who already own the rights to these movies (movies that can be marketed as “classics,” more often than not) it’s a no-brainer to claw back the rights they leased to Netflix in order to launch their own streaming services.
While I have doubts that Netflix would ever move to an ad-supported model — not until they completely exhaust the entire global SVOD market — yes, it’s a little easier to shove some ads into something that already has act breaks, though one of my chief complaints about Netflix’s original TV series is how flabby and structureless they are, episodically.
Speaking of: Let’s talk Originals, because those are some numbers I was interested to see.
John: Right, about those… There’s far more original content on Netflix than there was a decade ago — from zero options in 2010 to 1,097 Netflix original shows and movies in 2020. According to Reelgood’s data, the TV number is the one growing rapidly and for good reasons: Along with the hours argument above, there’s also the fact that it’s easier (from a narrative perspective) to produce interesting and desirable follow-ups to the same content in the form of subsequent seasons. Without any data to back that up, I’d argue you’re far more likely to get subscribers to stick around for a second season of a show than you are a sequel.
Oriana: Sorry, I have to laugh here. [quick laugh break] Okay, I’m back. That’s an obscene number, and I have to wonder how much Netflix is cheating by using the “Original” label for all those Canadian and Spanish and Finnish shows it acquired, but had no hand in actually producing.
It’s a lot easier, even when you have seemingly infinite resources, to buy up a bunch of shows that have already been made and pretend — to foreign audiences who don’t know better — that you are the “original” source for these shows.
Check out this additional Reelgood chart, which indicates just how much of Netflix’s content still counts as “licensed.” (Note that enormous hump in 2012, after which all the studios realized what a problem they had on their hands)
John: Yeah, the reckoning started in 2012, which is part of why Netflix started pursuing more original content anyway, so they could be the masters of their own destiny to a greater extent. But as you said, the large majority of Netflix show and movie options are still licensed — this seems likely to remain the case, and it’s why I’m still pretty bullish on Disney+ despite the questions around how long you can profit off of existing IP I posed last week on TV[R]EV.
For Disney, the answer is potentially forever. For Netflix, that’s not the case since they don’t have much in the way of proprietary IP — though an originals-only approach is far too risky financially and in terms of subscribers to ever truly pursue. I’m genuinely curious how much further these splits can favor originals, and do feel like Netflix would prefer to lean on properties that audiences are already familiar with to keep users around.
But since they’ve basically reached subscription saturation — in the U.S., at least — the strategy also changed toward retention a couple years ago. That shifts how you approach content, and I think those pressures and the ones caused by losing popular licensed shows like Friends and The Office push them further into the originals lane than perhaps they’re comfortable with, or is even sustainable long-term.
Oriana: Ah yes, the magic words. “Sustainable long-term.” I too wonder about this, and have in the past laid awake at night pondering that same question: How much more money Netflix (and other deep-pocketed streamers) can shove into original series when licensed shows like The Office and Friends provide the bulk of streaming viewership?
TV shows are expensive to make in the first place, and making numerous eight-figure development deals with high-profile producers like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy doesn’t seem to have resulted in huge viewership (at least, Netflix hasn’t bothered putting out a celebratory press release full of viewership non-data).
At some point, Netflix is going to need its own Friends or The Office, one it owns. Maybe they just need a little more time — and a few thousand more attempts.