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Netflix has been on an absolute tear in producing streamable content for a handful of years now, and it only seems like things are just getting started for the subscription service. Within the last two years alone, Netflix has been talked up as being a competitor to the movie theater industry due to finally evolving into being a competent production company. Their partnering with directors Duncan Jones and Noah Baumbach would make Netflix appear to be on the right track in making movie theaters a thing of the past. On a personal level, I never bought into the proposition that Netflix could even come close to replicating what is experienced at your nearest theater. On a general consensus level, the hype seemed to be settling in with Netflix becoming that opposing force against movie theaters across the globe. Discussion was circulating about Netflix acquiring Paramount’s 'Cloverfield' franchise and now it really seemed like Netflix was making big moves to be considered a serious contender for being the industry’s most bold production company. As you know, Netflix shocked the world in dropping the premier trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox during Super Bowl 52, along with announcing that the film would be readily available for it’s subscribers following the conclusion of the game. Leading up to my viewing of Cloverfield Paradox, I was ready to submit myself to the train that championed Netflix as the contender it could be, but after February’s two critical flops, Netflix clearly has no grip on their quality control.
Netflix reminds me a lot of McDonalds. McDonalds was a company that prided themselves on the content they created despite how minimal, yet ecstatic their fanbase was during their earliest years. As time progressed and decisions needed to be made, the business needed to start making bigger moves to shape themselves into what they wanted to be as a company in the long-run. Netflix started with a simple premise; rent movies through the Internet that will be sent to your house for your entertainment. A mere decade after Netflix took shape, they officially started streaming their content to its 20 million subscribers with higher monthly payments. In 2013, Netflix moved into original programming with House of Cards, and 2013 could end up being seen as the turning point in Netflix’s storied history. Netflix had pumped millions into House of Cards and it was a huge risk for a company that was relatively known for supplying its audience with movies most of us had already seen. House of Cards' first season ended up being so well received it garnered eight Emmy nominations and this changed Netflix forever. With Netflix making history through House of Cards, their reputation shifted into something unimaginable up until that point in time. Just three years later, Netflix released over 100 films or television series to its subscribers, and this may have been the point in time when Netflix lost sight of the identity they wanted associated with their brand.
Now that the key moments in Netflix’s history have been presented, this piece is going to be much more opinion-based in my personal perception of Netflix’s brand, and the problems they may face in the near future. As mentioned previously, in 2016 Netflix had released over 100 pieces of content to its subscribers, which is more than any other cable or network channel. Of that 100, Netflix may have produced a very small handful of at least “good” entertainment. This also seems to be a recurring issue since we started seeing “Netflix Originals” take center stage back in 2013. The “Netflix Originals” have now become the backbone of their brand, and overshadowed the films or television series that we’ve already seen before on our favorite networks. Since I have no quarrels with how they handle their television shows (most of which are incredibly well-made), I’ll be highlighting the film side of their “Netflix Originals.”
What inspired me to take to the Internet and spread my voice to those that care to read my content, was actually their most recent film, Mute. Without diving into my brief review (you can find the full one on Roman’s Movie Reviews on Facebook) of the film, Mute infuriated me and is basically the straw that broke the camel’s back. Backtracking to Cloverfield Paradox that released earlier the same month, that was the one that convinced me that something fishy was going on with Netflix’s handling of their “originals.” So, after Duncan Jones’ disastrous outing, confirming his mediocrity, it has me wondering why Netflix is choosing to produce films that just aren’t good. Now, that isn’t saying that *all* Netflix films are bad, they in fact have a handful of really solid films. A few of which are nominated for some Academy Awards this year. It should be noted though that most, if not all, of Netflix’s “Originals” that are *at least* good (by critical consensus) or are nominated for awards, appeared during festival circuits before ever being available to stream on Netflix. This tells me that the films that Netflix purchases to get millions of eyes on it, that aren’t produced by them, are the “originals” that make me realize just how special this brand can be. Not only for the industry, but for the future of streaming services. Just glancing at Amazon Studios, they don’t have very many films, but most of them are pretty great compared to Netflix’s standards, and it is also a studio that has gained lots of Awards season buzz over the last few years. Netflix should take some notes from Amazon. Looking at the films that they oversee, and produce themselves, they are more than likely not good at all (by critical consensus). Films like Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, and Mute are the ones that tell me that Netflix will simply produce any half-completed script that got pushed away by other big time studios like Warner Bros. or Universal. The quality of Paradox has even convinced many film fans to believe that Paramount simply sold their film to Netflix so that Paramount could avoid any financial losses had they released it in theaters. All they have to do now is take that script and attach big name talent, director, or a crafty marketing campaign to it, and that’ll get the buzz around their product going. Just to point out, I don’t truly believe that Netflix intends to make mediocre content nine times out of ten. I think they actually do care, they just have no idea how to control the quality of their product because they’re so focused on the quantity.
“More content than any cable or network channel,” should be an instant red flag when Netflix has yet to establish solid footing for a future that isn’t entirely certain. They strive with television series, but their ratio of bad films to good is a chore to comprehend. Hell, Netflix has even said they’re eyeing roughly 700 “Netflix Original” releases in 2018. Seven. Hundred. That is a humongous amount of content to release, and yes, some of them will be TV series, but there is a clear trend that Netflix’s focus is on the numbers they achieve, rather than a consistent enough quality. Not all production companies hit a home run every time, nor is that what I’m asking of a streaming service that looks to entertain audiences in the comfort of their own home, but not all production companies create 700 pieces of original content in one calendar year. Netflix’s ambitions are high, and that’s admirable, but as someone who cares deeply for quality film-making, it hurts to see a company that eats with its eyes, rather than its stomach. Films like Mudbound, The Meyerowitz Stories, and Gerald’s Game are all films from last year that Netflix purchased to get more eyes on someone’s art. That is special, powerful, and important for content creators to know they have a company out there that will purchase their work for millions to see. The films that Netflix is trying to make to compete with the films they’re purchasing have completely whiffed and they’re in an endless spiral.
Looking ahead into Netflix’s future, they have something special here, but creating almost a thousand pieces of original content in one year is not the way to do that. They’ve lost their grip on quality control and it may come crashing down in the very near future if they keep making films like Mute, because if more films like that become associated with the iconic “N”, then the brand will take a hit, and a hard one at that. Netflix has expanded to roughly 200 countries, and 117 million people are subscribed to their service, but just like McDonalds they’ve taken something so simple, sweet, and virtually perfect, and lost a grip on what makes their brand so special. They’ve expanded their horizons so far now that I could not imagine a scenario where Netflix would take a step back and re-evaluate their business model for their consumers. In the foreseeable future, I’m not sure I see Netflix as a company who will be taken seriously by a mass majority of people. Instead of looking forward to a brand new “Netflix Original,” we’ll be groaning at the idea of Netflix releasing 500 “Original Films,” within the first six months of the year 2027.