Netflix reportedly embracing live streams to tackle subscriber slump

Netflix on phone
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While Netflix has done more than any other company to bring about the death of appointment TV, it looks like it may be about to take a leaf out of old-school cable’s book by introducing live shows to the platform.

According to Deadline, Netflix is working on a live streaming option to broadcast stand-up specials and unscripted content as it happens. Netflix reportedly confirmed the story, and told the site that it was in the early stages of development.

One obvious possible use case is the Netflix Is A Joke event — a comedy festival the company arranged last year. While performances from the event are going to be put up on Netflix at some point, a theoretical future festival could be broadcast live (or more likely on a slight delay to quickly edit out anything spectacularly offensive). Gigs, concerts, sports, theater: the potential is enormous. 

Another possible avenue is reality TV with audience interaction. While Netflix has shows like The Circle and Love Is Blind, live broadcasts could bring back that reality TV staple of viewer voting to decide who’s sent packing.

What live streams mean for Netflix

It may sound slightly odd for this to be mooted as the next big thing. Live TV has, after all, existed for decades, and even the ability to vote in a live talent show isn’t anything new and exotic — just ask American Idol, which debuted all the way back in 2002 when the five-year-old Netflix was still sending DVDs in the mail. 

Nonetheless, it could be a valuable weapon in Netflix’s arsenal as it attempts to ensure the subscriber slump it suffered last quarter is just a blip rather than a trend. 

Live shows that vanish upon their completion are a strong incentive for people to keep up their subscription, rather than stopping and starting as shows are added to the service. You can reconnect at any time to catch up on Stranger Things, but if a live performance really is a one off, then it’s harder to plan a subscription schedule.

Recording a comedy performance or a gig is also a fair bit cheaper than developing, scripting and shooting a multi-set drama, too, which would certainly help the company’s bottom line. Plus it might soften Netflix’s growing reputation as a brutal cancellation specialist: you can’t really cancel a live show midway through, after all.

Deadline says that it’s “early days for the live roll out," so it may be a while before we see the fruits of the idea. But if Netflix does it well, this could prove to be a masterstroke.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.