Opinion: Why Netflix’s wobble shouldn’t impact its (thus far, awesome) diversity mission
What will the streaming giant’s future programming look like in light of its recent subscriber glitch, asks Hanna Flint
Friday 22 April 2022 By Hanna Flint
Is the mighty falling? It’s been revealed this week that Netflix has lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of the year, causing its stock to plummet by 35.12% at the time of writing. The company has also warned shareholders to expect another two million subscribers to leave between now and July. As someone who has been covering the streamer for the past few years, this situation isn’t exactly surprising. Netflix has long been overvalued; a recent Forbes piece from January has it estimated at being at least $114bn more than its truly worth, despite its model of borrowing billions of dollars during a period of low interest rates (extended because of the pandemic) that has seen its debt balloon from just under $1bn in 2014 to over $16bn in 2020.
There was a reason for securing such a large amount of investment as the company, which began by delivering DVDs in the post, went from licensing films and series to be viewed via its streaming platform to making content itself through its own studio. Lilyhammer was the first exclusive content to hit the service in North America, but was soon followed by bona-fide Netflix Originals like House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, Hemlock Grove, and Bloodline. The company was an outlier that offered a breadth of entertainment that circumnavigated the rigid TV schedules, then at a lower price than cable services, where you could watch new and old shows on demand and at your convenience. Of course, if you're going to position yourself as a city upon a hill designed to disrupt traditional viewing practices and entertainment models, you have to expect others to follow suit when your efforts appear to be working.
At first it was just Amazon causing competition for Netflix through its Prime Video platform, but in the past couple of years we’ve seen the likes of Disney, Apple, Paramount, Peacock, Now, HBO Max and BritBox pop up to draw subscribers away. Sure, during lockdown people might have been regularly using their Netflix account, but with the cost of living rising and a diversity of new subscription services offering decent, marquee programming, it's perhaps unsurprising that the streamer has felt the squeeze from the competition. That and the recent price hikes. I can remember when I used to pay £6.99 a month for access, but it's now going to be £10.99 for the same standard package – and my gas bills aren’t getting any cheaper.
The reaction to this news has been mixed; you’ve got the #GoWokeGoBroke crowd blaming diversity for a subscriber exodus, while others point to the cancellation of shows created and led by women or those from marginalised backgrounds for the disillusionment. One Day At A Time, Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Tuca & Bertie, Glow and She’s Gotta Have It were all shut down prematurely and, personally, I’m pretty salty about them choosing to abandon the MENA-led horror series, Archive 81, after just one season. You can guarantee we will continue to get the mediocre Hallmark channel rom-coms and uninspired action movies like Red Notice, 6 Underground and Extraction, because the streamer seems, for some reason, not to want to fully promote some of the more critically acclaimed titles it’s scooped up from festivals. Why?
Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader pointed this out in 2017 when talking about the promotion of his ridiculously good film, First Reformed. ‘Perhaps Bird Box and The Kissing Booth can fight their way through the vast sea of Netflix produce to find popular acceptance, but First Reformed? Unlikely,’ he said on Facebook. ‘Relegated to esoterica.’
Netflix should get props for producing more diverse films and series compared to traditional studios and production companies, but rarely does the algorithm favour these offerings in comparison to its more generic, white-led counterparts. I just hope if Netflix is going to find ways to cut costs to keep its platform lucratively and creatively enticing to both subscribers and investors, its diversity mission won’t become its biggest casualty.
I can remember a time when the most you could expect from models getting political was walking the catwalk for Fashion Rocks or rocking a girl power T-shirt. Now I’m increasingly impressed with the Victoria’s Secret models using their platforms to speak out against injustices. Bella and Gigi Hadid, of course, are leading the way when it comes to the occupation of Palestine, and I salute their efforts. But after Coachella, I’m stanning model and influencer Sarah Talabi for her response to an enquiry about her supposedly necking off with a certain actor over the weekend.
‘Everyone is asking me if I was kissing Timothée Chalamet at Coachella, and that is a good question,’ she told Page Six in a statement. ‘But a great question would be asking our world leaders why the Earth is now losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year due to global warming and why climate crisis reform has been completely ineffective.’
She proceeded to post a link to a Washington Post story on the subject via her Instagram Stories.
Queen-like behaviour. Solidarity, sis. No notes.