Last week, a topic on Reddit’s cord-cutting community asked people about their preferred streaming providers, and the responses surprised me.
Despite the fact that Netflix has the most paying members of any streaming service, just nine Redditors chose it as one of their favorites, compared to 17 for HBO Max. Netflix was unable to create a clear lead over Apple TV+, which debuted less than two years ago and has a comparatively small collection.
Although the discussion was not statistically indicative of anything, it struck a chord with me as someone who has been experiencing Netflix weariness. It also coincides with Netflix’s underwhelming second quarter, in which global memberships increased by only 1.5 million while falling by 430,000 in the US and Canada.
What’s causing Netflix’s stumbling? It’s partially a matter of saturation, as the company runs out of new clients in large regions after a year of pandemic-fueled expansion. But I believe there are other factors at work, ones that aren’t readily apparent in quarterly profit reports.
Competition for content
Let’s start with the obvious: Netflix alternatives are much more plentiful now than they were a few years ago. While Netflix’s repertoire still outnumbers most of its competitors, the series that consumers want to watch are now available on a variety of different platforms, from HBO Max and Disney+ to Apple TV+ and Peacock.
Take, for example, JustWatch’s list of the top 100 movies and TV shows in the United States right now: I counted ten that are available on Netflix, with only five of them being Netflix-exclusive.
Many of those non-Netflix shows would have been attached to pay-TV bundles in the cable era, with Netflix as an add-on. The best series on TV are increasingly not available on cable, making it difficult to decide which services to pay for each month. (I believe this is why we frequently hear that “Netflix used to have everything,” even though this has never been the case.)
With so many alternative streaming options, Netflix doesn’t have to be a year-round need, especially if it doesn’t provide a continuous stream of must-see TV. Netflix has admitted that it has been lacking in significant hits recently, assuring investors that titles like The Witcher and Sex Education will help rekindle interest in the service later this year.
The personality problem
Still, I don’t believe that content is the sole problem. I’m nowhere close to running out of things to watch on Netflix, but my enthusiasm for the service is dwindling as I look for alternatives. Something else is also missing in my opinion.
When you look at other streaming services, you’ll see that they have more individuality than Netflix. Star Wars, Marvel, Pixel, National Geographic, and Disney itself all have their own content hubs on Disney+. HBO Max features sections full of editorial recommendations with accompanying entertaining little descriptions, as well as separate sections for Adult Swim, DC Comics, and Crunchyroll. Pop-up sections on Apple TV include “Essential Stories” (complete with custom cover art) and a row of editorial “What We’re Watching” recommendations.
By comparison, Netflix appears cold and planned. Every step of the way, it’s evident that the entire interface is the result of an algorithm preoccupied with figuring out what you would like. Those recommendations tend to obscure Netflix’s full collection, which is why entering into someone else’s account might feel like accessing completely another site.
I believe Netflix’s problems stem from a failure to sell members on what the business already has to offer, rather than a shortage of popular shows and movies. To that end, the corporation might do a better job of infusing personality into its service and making its apps more engaging to use.
What may those modifications encompass? Perhaps Netflix should consider creating sub-brands for its original programming, similar to how Disney+ and HBO Max handle their many media businesses. Alternatively, instead of spitting out impersonal adjectives, Netflix may provide a more human touch by explaining why we should watch a certain show. Those ideas may even be powered by an algorithm that detects when users aren’t interacting with the standard interface enough.
Netflix is notorious for A/B testing even little adjustments, so it’s not like the corporation doesn’t try new things. Netflix even experimented with human-curated movie and show collections in 2019, but the option hasn’t been widely adopted since then. Maybe I’m being silly in questioning a strategy that has worked so well for Netflix for so long.
When Netflix does push out interface updates, such as top 10 lists and a shuffle button that says “play something,” they are usually incremental rather than radical. If new content isn’t enough to protect Netflix from losing members, the firm may look into more innovative ways to link users to the programming it already has.