Is Netflix broken? Depends on how you look at it. Recent viewership metrics for specific shows suggest that its programming has never been more popular (at least since Netflix has been sharing metrics).
Four titles released in the last couple of months — Wednesday, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Stranger Things 4 part 1 and Squid Game — set all-time records at Netflix. All but Dahmer recorded 1 billion-plus hours in their first 28 days.
But at the same time, Netflix's 2022 has been troubled, to put it lightly. One minute they're losing subscribers overall for the first time in ages, the next they're so desperate for more cash they're cracking down on account-sharing. Media analyst Julia Alexander at Puck News has explained that Netflix's viewership records are at odds with how "Netflix also had arguably its worst year on record." Wall Street demands more growth, as new subscriber numbers are worse year over year.
Since Netflix lives rent-free in my head, I thought I'd give Netflix CEO Reed Hastings some unrequested business advice for the new year. Because as it stands right now, all the best Netflix shows and all the best movies on Netflix don't seem to be enough in the war to be the best streaming service.
1. Restore faith by bringing back canceled favorites
Around the Tom's Guide Slack, we have always mourned one show more than any other: Netflix's GLOW. Greenlit for a fourth season before that run was canceled, this tale of women in pro wrestling was a brilliant cross-demographic success.
I say this with confidence because my colleague Kelly Woo and I watched it for completely different reasons (we're only a sample size of two, but just stick with me). I'm the pro wrestling aficionado of the office, and she loves great shows with fantastic dialogue that deliver good drama. And we're both at a point where we've given up on GLOW returning.
And since GLOW is far from the only series that got dealt a death before fans were ready (there's a whole conversation surrounding Netflix's habit of canceling shows focused on lesbian characters), I'd argue that brand-repair is needed at House Hastings. The better image people have of your service, the less they might be likely to cancel their memberships out of frustration.
Bring GLOW (and First Kill, and Warrior Nun) back for feature-length films that gives audiences some closure. Doing so would raise Netflix's esteem a bit.
2. Fix Netflix with ads
The ad-supported Netflix that launched this November reeked of a beta test that was thrown at the public to do Netflix's work for them. Arguably, it was added to give Netflix access to a wider range of customers, since it introduced the cheaper "Basic with ads" tier, which is $6.99 per month.
That said, it's amazingly flawed. The first, and most obvious reason being that you can only get the ad-supported Netflix by downgrading to the 720p Netflix Basic tier. Introducing a 720p streaming service tier in 2022 is like trying to sell milk before you pasteurize it. So, here's what Netflix's pricing should look like this upcoming year.
- Basic with ads: $6.99 per month
- Basic: $9.99 per month
- Standard with ads: $12.49 per month
- Standard: $15.49 per month
- Premium with ads: $16.99 per month
- Premium: $19.99 per month
The new ad-supported Standard (up to 1080p) and Premium (up to 4K) tiers I'm suggesting apply the same $3 discount in exchange for watching with ads. Arguably, those discounts could be higher, as advertisers would likely pay more for access to subscribers who are paying more. It's why you see the ads for expensive products during prime time, and cheaper products in late-night infomercials. Netflix has already hinted that this could happen.
The next step to un-break Netflix with ads is something Netflix is already working on: filling in the gaps. Many shows and movies in the Netflix vault aren't available on Netflix with ads because contracts haven't been hammered out.
With those two caveats fixed, I think Netflix with ads would be a whole lot more interesting for both subscribers and advertisers. Yes, gaining a new, lower entry-level price is a good thing for Netflix, but these ad-based discounts could help Netflix retain people who want 4K Netflix but are sick of dropping $20 per month on it.
3. Embrace live sports — and that includes pro wrestling
Just look up and down the best streaming services, and you'll see that appointment viewing is back. While on-demand releases — some stayed up til midnight or later to watch Stranger Things 4 — are still the status quo, Peacock and Paramount Plus have NFL games, and HBO Max is getting into soccer with the USMNT and USWNT in January.
Even the bigger services are doing this. Disney Plus streams Dancing with the Stars live, and (most famously) Prime Video has NFL live streams with Thursday Night Football. But with all of those services tying up all of those rights, and Netflix losing its bid for F1 live streams to ESPN, there's not much sport that's able to be poached. But there is Sports Entertainment.
Okay, I know I'm going to lose some people by even calling pro wrestling a sport, but pro wrestling is where Netflix should be looking if it truly wants customers who won't cancel. Not because pro wrestling fans will put up with anything or have low standards (some of us do), but because it's a year-round 'sport.'
WWE (and other promotions) do not have an off-season. And that means WWE fans can't cancel Peacock if they want to keep up with the company's frequent live events. Right now, WWE is locked down with Peacock, and they're locked into a multi-year agreement. So, Netflix should look one rung lower on the ladder, to All Elite Wrestling.
A recent upstart in the pro wrestling space that launched on TNT in 2019, AEW is currently a pro wrestling promotion without a strong streaming strategy. Currently in business with Warner Bros. Discovery by currently airing on TBS and TNT (and streaming PPVs on Bleacher Report), AEW needs a streaming service, and I think Netflix needs them too.
Outlook: Try and poach creative talent
So, Netflix probably has bigger plans than what I've just suggested. This is a mere starting point for what can be done. And my last piece of advice is the most complicated.
The trouble over at HBO Max — cancelations left and right, content being removed to save on budget — can't be doing wonders for the confidence of the people who make the shows. Sure, White Lotus maestro Mike White is signed on for season 3, but it all makes you wonder about the rest of the talent who've helped HBO Max become so ... Max.
And that idea has one thing in common with all of these pitches: make Netflix more than it is today. Netflix isn't synonymous with prestige TV the way HBO is, and adding a show or few in that direction could help (it already has true crime and competition-based reality tv on lock) make more people consider Netflix as something they need — rather than something they can come back to later.