I still remember…
Oh boy, here I go again. Evidence that you've officially aged passed your prime can be found in the eminent phrase "back in my day." And so, at the expense of sounding antiquated, let me tell you a little story.
It's the story of a tech upstart in Silicon Valley that had the audacity to hijack the U.S. Postal Service to deliver much-desired cinematic content right to your mailbox. It's the story of that same company which, floundering in the year 2000, offered to sell to Blockbuster and was decidedly turned down.
Yes indeed: Netflix.
Netflix has become a revolutionary in the entertainment industry, there is no denying. A "niche company" as described by former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco when he rejected that $50 million buyout offer from Netflix founder Reed Hastings, my family first subscribed sometime in the early 2000s (2005 maybe?) when the company still only mailed you DVDs.
For a family as cinematically inclined as mine, it was a godsend. Movies? At your front door? Practically any title you want? Say no more. Formerly frequent patrons at the local video store, we stopped going after Netflix started shipping and didn't look back.
When Netflix started streaming movies in 2007, the game changed again. No more did you have to wait for a DVD to be delivered via mail. No longer! Now all you had to do was press play on your laptop and voila! You were off to moviegoing heaven.
My family even rigged up this elaborate system before the first notion of a smart TV had even rattled around in anyone's brain (mind you, the first widespread smartphone didn't even debut until 2007), wherein we would run a bevy of wires to the TV and hook up even larger speakers to create a rudimentary home entertainment system.
In short, Netflix changed my life. Netflix has changed the lives of millions of people across the planet. Entertainment is now mobile. It's streamlined. You can carry it in your pocket. And you can watch so much. The Matrix, Black Mirror, Pulp Fiction, The Notebook, House of Cards. The list goes on.
And yet, Netflix is dying.
Netflix has a problem. A content problem. As Forbes outlines, Netflix has changed how we watch TV, but not what we watch. Netflix cuts the middleman out of the distribution process, shifting viewers of Friends from the cable company to their own direct streaming services.
The problem comes in the form of multiplicity of content, and the exclusivity that is demanded in order to expand profits.
In short, in a world where everyone can stream (Hulu, Amazon Prime, and soon Disney+) having dominance in that technology is moot. The novelty of the niche company has faded precisely because everyone has realized that there is nothing distinctly proprietary about what Netflix does.
Why join them when you can beat them?
The most prominent of these aforementioned competitors is Disney. Aside from it's 60% ownership stake in Hulu, the media conglomerate controls some of the most coveted and beloved franchises in the business: the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, James Cameron's Avatar, X-Men and Deadpool, The Simpsons, National Geographic. Once again, the list goes on.
In short, a storm is brewing for Netflix. While the company is still a titan of the streaming industry, it has a rather one-dimensional portfolio (compared to the varied business interests of megacorporations like Amazon or Disney) and it can't sustain itself that way forever.
Thus, the debt.
Netflix has borrowed billions of dollars in order to produce original content over the last six to seven years. Beginning with Lilyhammer and House of Cards, Netflix's stable of directly controlled films and shows has grown into the hundreds. While such production might not be what the original vision of the company was, and while the political thriller of a disgraced Kevin Spacey might not be the next Avengers: Endgame or even Game of Thrones, there is another argument to be made.
Netflix should play small ball.
While Disney and Universal try to scale every character they have into the next multi-film megafranchise, an article by Adam Rogers at Wired argues for a different approach: there need be a place for small stories, and Netflix, due to its unconventional nature and revolutionary style, can be that place.
Taking one of Netflix's newest films, Rim of the World, as an example, Rogers argues that declining theatergoing populations have squeezed out space for certain kinds of movies that used to be all too common in Hollywood, such as romantic comedies and kid-centric adventure films.
Volume over the sheer success of singular content is Rogers' point. Triumph by a thousand paper cuts, as it were. Netflix might not have an Avengers film ready to supply a multi-billion dollar gross, but if it has one hundred shows and movies pull out a couple million each, well that gets the job done too.
Personally, I think early reports of Netflix's death may be greatly exaggerated. The 175-day ultimatum provided by Forbes is a bit overly dramatic in flashing its warning signals.
Is losing Disney's content going to hurt? Probably. But I haven't talked to a single person who is on the edge of their seat to abandon Netflix as soon as Disney+ goes live. After all, folks love Star Wars, but Stranger Things and Bojack Horseman are extremely popular too. Can't we live in a world that has both?
I may be old enough to remember when Netflix burst onto the scene, but I doubt I'm so old as to witness its demise before my very eyes…at least not yet.