THROWBACK THURSDAY: Another time Netflix didn’t fold

When you write over 8,000 articles, sometimes you see patterns. It seems to me that over the last decade, I’ve been pretty hostile to Netflix. If you don’t believe me, check out this list of every time I’ve written about them. They don’t come off really well. Or, maybe I don’t come off really well because I’m always writing articles where I forecast the death of the streaming service.

This has nothing to do, I assure you, with the time that Netflix’s co-founder Reed Hastings walked past me without even acknowledging me. Although, it did happen, and Reed, buddy, you owe me a call mmmmkay? It has more to do with the fact that there’s something inexplicable about Netflix and how they do what they do.

I was in the mood to savage them again in November 2016 when Jake Buckler, scamp that he is, decided to counter my negativity with some positivity. Take a look.

It’s not about the DVDs anymore

Of course it was only about a decade ago that when you thought of Netflix you thought of those little red envelopes that would come to your house every week. Netflix’s first attempt to split off its DVD division was a disaster, but eventually people largely lost interest. The DVD division is sort of split off now to DVD.com but that’s about as interesting to most people today as a buggy whip or typewriter ribbon.

Netflix slowly but surely built an empire on its original programming, mostly by literally burying us in it. It seems like there’s always “something” to watch on Netflix, and even I will admit that there is usually one must-see program a month, enough to keep people coming back.

The economics, though…

See the thing that really makes me wonder about Netflix is the economics. Because, when you look at the sheer amount of content, you have to wonder how they pay for it. Yeah, you’re paying your $15 a month or whatever it is by the time you read this. And so is everyone else on the planet. But there has to be so much profit built into that, it’s just insane. I mean, when you hear that Netflix spends $100 million to produce a film like Bright, which was just so interminably bad, you have to wonder. They have to be spending billions and billions on new content and most of it is really not good. Yes, there’s Bridgerton and all the other really well-regarded stuff. But I would venture to guess that by volume, 90% of Netflix’s stuff isn’t that good and people probably don’t watch a lot of it. It’s there to create the impression that Netflix has a ton of content. Which, it does. But it doesn’t have a ton of good content and that’s my point.

I mean, what’s the return on investment when you have to spend so much money on content? And let’s also not forget that they started streaming Seinfeld last month and that couldn’t have been cheap.

Just a wild guess, I imagine that maybe 50¢ of your average Netflix bill goes to operating expenses, another quarter goes straight into Hastings’ pocket (call me, Reed!) and the rest just sits around waiting to be spent on original content for some reason.

When Reed does call me…

Hey Reed, I have some ideas for some content that I’d love for you to buy. I have this idea about a tech blogger who goes around the world going into local electronics stores and buying stuff, and makes friends along the way. Sort of Somebody Feed Phil but for tech. Call me, Reed, I think we have a winner here! And if we don’t, who cares? Could it really be worse than some of the other stuff you’ve spent money on? I’m asking for a measly $30 million to get this done. That’s not much, right?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.