Netflix: The Least-Essential Streaming Service
Plus: a New England folk tale assigned!
The big news this week is that Netflix shed subscribers for the first time in forever, tanking the streaming service’s stock price. There are lots of different angles to look at here, from Netflix’s plans to offer a cheaper version of the service subsidized by advertisements to efforts to crack down on multiple households using the same account in order to boost subscriber numbers. But the real problem is a fairly simple one: Netflix is not only the most expensive service I subscribe to, it is also the least essential.
And look, I subscribe to a lot of services. Not quite all of them. But a lot of them! It’s part of the job; I need to be able to keep up with what’s happening on a variety of channels and services, and it’s, frankly, easier just to have them all in one place instead of trying to navigate through critics-only streaming portals. I know: world’s smallest violin.
While this is a great expense that I bear at enormous personal cost for the benefit of you, my loyal reader, it’s worth it because it gives me a pretty good look at what each service does best. HBO Max is, hands-down, the best service: it’s where I go when I want to browse for a movie to watch and its lineup of originals is both deep and high quality: Raised by Wolves, Tokyo Vice, Hacks, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Winning Time are all must-watches, and there’s something to be said for instant access to decades of classics like Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Wire, Rome, etc.
Then there’s Disney+ and Hulu, which are bundled together for me and each have their own benefits. (ESPN+ is included in this and it’s nice to have during Masters weekend, but I don’t really use it that often.) Disney+ is the go-to channel for kids stuff and I am trying to slog my way through most of the Marvel shows to maintain a basic pop-cultural literacy. Hulu has a sneaky-deep movie library and a great lineup of originals, a factor reinforced by the streamer’s partnership with FX and app-exclusives like the brilliant Devs. Criterion Channel has the best lineup of pre-1990 movies around. My wife’s most-watched app is Discovery+; she loves the HGTV vertical.
And then, after all these options, comes Netflix. It has the shallowest movie library—I’m in desperate straits if this is where I’ve come to find a random movie to watch on a Saturday night—and, as far as my interests go, the weakest originals (I’m sorry, you couldn’t pay me to write about Bridgerton).
On top of that, though, Netflix has a very real structural disadvantage. What was once its big selling point—the “binging” model of releasing entire seasons all at once—is now an enormous cost. Not just because it means they have to create more shows and movies to keep people hooked. But because when they finally do release a must-stream show (like the new seasons of Stranger Things or Ozark or, yes, Bridgerton, fine, I don’t watch it but lots of people do) people can sign up for a month, watch it, and bail.
This is what the streaming industry refers to as “churn,” and it’s probably the biggest reason that the next seasons of Stranger Things and Ozark have been split into two parts. There are other negatives to the binging model—mainly that shows get a week of buzz/water cooler talk/Internet chatter rather than two months—but the economic costs seem nigh-on insurmountable, at least to this educated outsider.
I really enjoy interviewing academics about older subjects, in large part because it helps illuminate how so few of our cultural fights are new. Even with a relatively young medium like film, people have been hashing out the same issues for decades. For instance: critics have been arguing over the usefulness in separating art for the masses (or, as one famous writer put it, “hokum”) with more nuanced and sophisticated fare for the arthouse audience. All of which is to say that I hope you enjoy my chat with Eric Hoyt about his new book on the early years of the Hollywood trade press, Ink-Stained Hollywood.
This piece on moviegoers returning to theaters is a little awkwardly written, but there’s a crucial nugget: Of those aged 55 or older who have returned to theaters, only 41 percent were there for one of the five highest-grossing films in 2021. The other 59 percent showed up for something other than blockbusters. The lesson here: movie theaters need a broader range of options than big-budget comic book fare if they’re going to survive.
As the world can never have too much Nicolas Cage content, here he is answering Google’s most popular Nicolas Cage questions.
I went to Disney World last weekend—this is why there was no Screen Time last Friday; sorry!—and it was great. In part, at least, because nobody at the park gave a damn about any of the dumb controversies swirling around the Mouse House.
Someone please get Ezra Miller some help.
New Mexico has fined the producers of Rust nearly $140,000 for firearms safety violations.
I’m not one to cheer the failure of CNN+ because a.) I like a lot of the people who work at CNN and b.) it sucks when people lose their jobs. I will say, though, that it was not entirely clear to me who the service was for? What I mean is: I would actually subscribe to a standalone CNN streamer that just streams CNN because that’s one of the last things I need before I can cut the cord for good. But CNN+ was not that.
Assigned Viewing: The Witch (Showtime)
I am kind of curious to see if The Northman grows on me as The Witch grew on me. One of the reasons I came to admire The Witch so much was that it took me a day or two afterward to realize that Eggers was doing something slightly unusual in the modern context. Usually when you tell a story about a witch hunt it’s a metaphor for oppression or intolerance: the witches are never real and it’s all a pretext for harming someone or some group. This is, I think, a function of The Crucible becoming standard AP English fare over the last few decades.
But The Witch says “No, witches are real and they are dangerous, but they are also appealing. And it’s worth seeing how someone alienated from their family becomes susceptible to being radicalized by a coven of witches.” This is why The Witch is interesting: it doesn’t look at witch hunts as a metaphor for modernity in the way we expect but in an entirely different way. I know people who were put off by the language (dialogue is taken verbatim from transcripts of witch trials) and the pacing (even at 92 minutes or so, I empathize with people who think it’s a bit slow), but man. I love this movie.