For years, Netflix never called itself a network. As such, it has never had to adhere to any conventions other than cable or broadcast networks. Now, however, Netflix defines itself as an “internet network,” which means it needs to start thinking of itself as one.
Netflix needs to figure out if it’s TBS or HBO and start curating content for its audience based on that decision. Not from a financial point of view, but out of respect for the tens of millions of subscribers that the network now has. With over 500 scripted series airing this year, it’s harder than ever for audiences to choose what’s worth watching. As increasingly mediocre shows are commanded into battle over quantity of options over quality, it’s up to the networks to carefully curate their offerings.
The story told by FX
Nobody does it better than FX (and its sister network, FXX). For a long time, FX had similar issues. When the network launched in 1994, it didn’t have much going on outside of Major League Baseball games that the network got through its parent company, Fox. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that FX began to take shape. Peter Liguori was in charge of programming at FX in the early 2000s, and it was under him that shows like The Shield, Nip/Tuck and Save me created. It was the first time the FX series had been recognized by the voting bodies at annual awards shows (the Emmys, the Golden Globes) and, more importantly, the edgy tone that FX would eventually become known for.
One of the main reasons FX continues to be as successful as it is today is that current head of programming, John Landgraf, is aware that it is not just a network; it healing. After years of suffering from low ratings and being considered a low profile network, Landgraf came on board in 2005 and began working on series that would bring credibility to the network. He stopped focusing on commissioning a lot of shows and instead started building an empire of acclaimed showrunners (Ridley Scott, Ryan Murphy) and seasoned actors.
Netflix needs to start doing the same. The Internet network has its own list of acclaimed series like Orange is the new black, the crown, house of cards and Strange things. But he’s also trying to build his roster of slapstick and lowbrow comedies and even trying to break into the realm of reality TV with shows like Ultimate Beast Master. Trying to build this empire of niche shows that target all types of viewers around the world, from poorly received series like flakes and the fourth season of Development stopped be pushed without a second thought.
It’s not just about having more
Again, because Netflix doesn’t have to worry about the financial consequences of a disappointing show, both in terms of ratings and reviews, its executives continue to test the waters. Like HBO, it is entirely dependent on subscriptions, and according to Netflix’s recent earnings report, subscriptions are steadily increasing around the world.
This means Netflix has the confidence and financial backing to experiment. As of December 2016, 24 original series have been created or returned. In January, there were 14 original series. In February, 11 new series will be broadcast. This does not count the number of original series or films that Netflix will also launch and promote.
That’s the key word: promote. It’s not only that Netflix has unlimited space to stream series and movies, but it’s also the shows and movies that are promoted on the front page. There’s little room to tease what’s first. As a result, there are new series that will never get the same attention as others. Sure, Santa Clarita Diet, a new zombie series that stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, will likely get great placement, but how about legend quest. Moreover, what exactly legend quest?
The negative effect it brings
During a televised conference last summer, FX’s Landgraf said the industry had been in a “peak TV” state for a few years. The number of scripted and unscripted series is growing at an alarming rate, and Landgraf told the assembled reporters that it’s not benefiting anyone.
“Although there is more large television [now] that at any point in history audiences have a harder time distinguishing the great from the simple competent,” Landgraf said. “I also believe there’s so much American television that we have lost much of the thread of a coherent and collective conversation. about what is good, what is very good and what is good.
Landgraf added that shows are not like cars; they cannot be made on a factory line by engineers or coders and produced at a rapid pace. TV shows need time and a certain level of attention from multiple people to develop.
“You could give me all the money in the world, and I still couldn’t personally oversee 71 shows and give each series the attention it needed,” Landgraf said. “Why are they [Netflix] do so many shows and is it effective? I couldn’t tell you.
“They can’t dub again and dub again and dub again because the whole face of the earth would be covered in Netflix shows 20 years from now.”
Netflix’s formula has worked for the company so far – or so CEO Reed Hastings said. Netflix has never revealed how many people watch their shows, and the company has no plans to release numbers anytime soon. But as Netflix’s community continues to grow, there will be more pressure on the internet to not only meet needs, but also to organize. With an abundance of series to discover, networks must help separate the mediocre from the phenomenal and focus on producing the latter.