Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Netflix's Quantity Over Quality Quandary


Don't get me wrong, I love Netflix as much as the next millennial – but something about their business model is rubbing me the wrong way.

Netflix and other streaming platforms have changed the way we consume content en route to becoming a cornerstone of our contemporary cultural zeitgeist. From "Netflix and chill" to dancing Hopper and popularising the dreaded auto-play function, our obsession with streaming on-demand has precipitated exponential growth – and now Netflix is doubling down by taking aim at not just commercial television, but major studios as well.

Ted Sarandos.
Speaking in February at a conference in San Francisco, Netflix CFO David Wells said the platform was planning to spend upwards of $8 billion on content in 2018, creating somewhere in the region of 700 original productions in the process, which includes both new and original content (such as Stranger Things and Narcos), as well as foreign language original productions for markets outside the United States and the English-speaking world, some of which we've already seen – Dark from Germany and 3% from Brazil. In addition to said 700 series', the platform is also set to release 80 original films throughout the year, according to chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

It goes without saying that those numbers – 700 shows, 80 movies – are staggeringly large. When you stop and consider that the budget for some of these productions – such as David Ayer's colossal misfire Bright ($90 million) and Martin Scorsese's upcoming gangster movie The Irishman ($100 million) – the gargantuan size of Netflix's undertaking starts to swim into view. 80 movies is nearing two releases per week, which starts to beg the question – will we ever need to leave the house again? Why visit the theatre when you can just flick on Netflix for a fraction of the cost?

And while I also have issues with Netflix challenging the sanctity of the theatregoing experience (but that's a column for another time, methinks), the heart of this issue is that rather than being choosy over what it puts on its platform, right now Netflix is just tossing shit at the wall and seeing what will stick. They had no problem offloading The Cloverfield Paradox – they were just jazzed that they could ride the hype train for about 24 hours, quality of the actual film be damned. To be honest, I'd rather see 10 or 15 quality Netflix films a year than have to wade through mountains of shit to get to the good stuff.

One of these things is not like the others; Bright (centre) and Mute (right) failed to click with critics,
unlike Annihilation (left).

While the prospect of unlimited choice might seem attractive to some, to me it just seems gluttonous. I scroll through Netflix and I glaze over; it feels like there is a new 'buzzed about' series being added every day, as well as six others that no-one is talking about whatsoever. This slapdash approach is plain to see; every prestige drama like The Crown is offset by a two cent haunted house horror like The Open House. For every Oscar-winning documentary like Icarus are a half-dozen forgettable shows about vampires or a kidnapping or whatever with bland as anything titles like Seven Seconds, Gypsy, Ghost Wars, Slasher, The Sinner, Money Heist or Borderliner. No, I didn't make any of those up.

A diamond in the rough; The Meyerowitz Stories.
The problem is, I can't see a lot of people feeling the same way as me; after all, it's an embarrassment of riches for only $9.99 a month. Right? Well, not exactly. I'd rather pay double that every week to see a quality film on an IMAX screen at the theatre than I would sit through a trainwreck like Mute again. With the exception of series' like Bates Motel, Riverdale and Jessica Jones, only one of which is a Netflix original, Netflix doesn't have a lot to come back to.

And it's not like there's no good stuff to speak of; Mudbound was a major awards contender just last month, The Meyerowitz Stories has gotten good reviews and Okja, from Korean director Bong Joon-ho, was also well-received. It's just that they get buried underneath a whole heap of crap. It doesn't help that the interface itself – with just reams and reams of rectangles scrolling past – is awful to navigate.

Throwing money and everything and everyone isn't sustainable, and right now Netflix is putting out anything it can in an effort to recruit subscribers, damaging its reputation in the process. When the platform first started curating original content, it was billed by many as a destination of prestige drama – House of Cards, Marco Polo, Bloodline, Orange is the New Black, The Crown. A challenger to the throne currently sat upon by HBO. Now it's a dumping ground for the stuff other studios wouldn't put in cinemas and resembles a big bucket of sloppy seconds.

1 comment:

  1. I love Netflix, but I agree with you that they need to tone it down. I'd rather seen 20 good movies than 80 meh ones. I don't see how they can sustain themselves long term with the spending they do. Are the subscribers really offsetting that amount?

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