It’s almost hard to remember now, but in 2013, when Netflix put out its first original series — House of Cards — some people thought the company was crazy. The first season alone cost tens of millions of dollars, and suddenly thrust Netflix into competition with cable channels like HBO and Showtime. The bet paid off, however, and today Netflix is debuting an original show or movie nearly every week.
In spite of this, there’s a substantial undercurrent of people choosing to cancel their subscriptions. The company lost 430,000 US and Canadian subscribers in the second quarter of 2021 alone. That doesn’t spell doom but obviously suggests it could be doing better. So is Netflix still worth subscribing to?
In the pro-Netflix corner
Just on the basis of Netflix Originals, there’s a lot to watch exclusively on Netflix. While House of Cards may have fallen out of favor due to Kevin Spacey’s involvement, there are still solid shows. You can choose from Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Castlevania, The Punisher, and The Witcher, to name a few. Quality can vary drastically, but there’s often something worthwhile in any given genre, except perhaps current affairs programming like Vice or PBS Frontline on other services.
The company’s movies have had mixed success critically, but there are still solid and occasionally award-winning fiction titles like Okja, Roma, Beasts of No Nation, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Arguably, some of the best films on the service are documentaries. These include Ava DuVernay’s 13th or Werner Herzog’s Into the Inferno — which, once again, you can’t watch anywhere else.
Related: The best documentaries on Netflix
Netflix is easily worth subscribing to if you’re into sketch or stand-up comedy. Doing a Netflix special is practically a cliche in the comedy world. It puts people in good company with headliners like Patton Oswalt and Amy Schumer.
Third-party content varies from country to country — in the US, people can watch shows like Breaking Bad, Community, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, even if other favorites like The Office are now maddeningly out of reach. Movies cycle out even more frequently, yet there’s usually something worth watching on any given weekend. Some choice cuts in August 2021 include Terminator 2, Django Unchained, Inception, and Team America: World Police.
What’s holding the service back
One major issue is that Netflix is quick to cancel Originals that don’t achieve Stranger Things levels of success. An infamous example is The OA, which, despite a cult following, had its second and ultimately final season end on a cliffhanger. Tuca & Bertie — the animated show starring Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong — was canceled after just one season, yet was popular enough to find a new home on Adult Swim. Netflix is not a service you can count on to complete story arcs, or sometimes even keep a good show alive.
A bigger concern, however, is that the rise of new services has robbed Netflix of popular third-party content, with (sometimes) more consistently appealing selections offered elsewhere. If you want to watch Friends on-demand for some reason, you may have to pay for HBO Max. The Office is walled up behind Peacock. Most if not all Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars titles have been moved to Disney Plus.
The rise of new services has robbed Netflix of popular third-party content, with (sometimes) more consistently appealing selections offered elsewhere.
Indeed, if you subscribe to both HBO Max and Disney Plus, you’ve got more reliable access to A-list material, simply because the services are owned by huge media conglomerates. HBO Max includes not just HBO’s lineup but many other WarnerMedia subsidiaries and partners, such as Warner Bros. and Turner Classic Movies. As if owning the Avengers and Luke Skywalker wasn’t excessive, Disney also has National Geographic and former Fox brands like 20th Century Studios. The queen from Aliens has become a Disney princess.
People with niche genre tastes may likewise have better options. Shudder is the best service for horror fans, and arthouse lovers are going to pick something like The Criterion Channel or Mubi. Aside from comedy, Netflix doesn’t specialize in much except being Netflix.
What can Netflix do to keep people onboard?
Netflix’s first priority should be to focus on fewer, higher-quality productions, and seeing them through. Consider how many people probably signed up for Disney Plus just to see The Mandalorian. People will absolutely join a service to watch one or two quality shows. Then they’ll stick around if there are a few more. Netflix has built up a good library — but many subscribers have already binged the quality picks.
Movies should be greenlit with an eye towards repeat viewing, rather than just getting people in the door for a month with marquee names. Yes, Extraction is a decent film with Chris Hemsworth. But it’s not something people are going to regret losing if they cancel. A Tolkien fan will think twice about dropping HBO Max, since they’ll lose the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies — if they haven’t already bought them of course, but that’s an expensive proposition.
New business deals might help, too. Netflix is already included with some T-Mobile plans, and offering similar bundles elsewhere would hook as many viewers as possible. The company should also be spending big to license popular movies, although it may not have much more to choose from given that studios are hoarding exclusives for their own platforms.
Is Netflix still worth subscribing to?
Is Netflix still worth subscribing to? For people with a limited budget, the answer to the question is probably no. The explosion of services in the past two years has fractured content to the point where you need multiple subscriptions to get a good swath. And there’s simply more bang for your buck elsewhere, at least in terms of instantly attractive content. Low-intensity streamers may even be content with Amazon Prime Video, which is weaker in some ways, but still has things worth watching at a lower price. It’ll be the only place to see the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show too, speaking of Tolkien.
Netflix has evolved from a catch-all service into its own niche: the place you go to find Netflix Originals, comedy specials, and a few classic shows. That can still be powerful, but only if you’re in the sweet spot between your first taste and heavy binging. The quality of new Originals is hit-or-miss, and you can’t count on third-party material hanging around. The best strategy may be to keep an ear to the ground for new must-see content and only subscribe for a month at a time.