Netflix is Expected to Spend $17 Billion on Original Programming This Year; Here’s Why This is Bad for Creators
Last week’s cancellation of HBO’s Watchmen sent many fans into shock. The dystopian drama series was a huge hit for the network, pulling in nominations for Critics’ Choice Television Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and more. After showrunner Damon Lindelof stepped down from Watchmen, HBO announced that they would not pursue a second season. Watchmen was among several hit television shows that were canceled after one season over the course of the past year, including Netflix’s Daybreak and CBS’ Happy Together.
In an age where television consumers can simply binge multiple episodes in one sitting, it’s not difficult to see why people lose interest in television programs so quickly. As soon as the viewer is done with one program, they can go ahead and binge the next and the cycle continues. The days of planning your schedule in order to make it home from work in time to catch your program are a thing of the past.
As a subscriber to five different video streaming services, I can say that streaming has hurt the creative process for television and film, just as much as it has helped. Over the course of the next year, Netflix is projected to spend over $17 billion on original content. While this may seem beneficial to the writers, producers and directors creating content, it actually could probably do more harm than good.
It’s rare to see a Netflix Original go past four seasons. Could this be because with several new programs being shoved down our throats, we lose interest in the shows in which we were once emotionally invested? Over the course of the past three weeks, several Netflix Originals have been trending topics on social media, including the Academy Award-nominated Marriage Story, docuseries like Don’t F**k With Cats and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, and reality competition The Circle. While these programs and films may rake in a lot of views, tweets and hashtags over the course of a week or two, are they as impactful as they would be had they screened on traditional formats?
In an age where we don’t have to wait a week between episodes, it’s hard for a television program to resonate in the viewers’ minds for long periods of time. In the past, many television shows would consist of up to 25 episodes per season, with one half of the season premiering in the fall and the other premiering in the spring of the following year. Now, most original programs on Netflix, or any other streaming platform, consist of around 10 to 12 episodes per season, most of which premiere all at once.
While boomers and gen-Xers hail shows like Fraiser and Seinfeld as classics, it’s hard for us millennials and gen-Zers to determine what shows will be our classics. Although shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black were among the first Netflix Originals, will they be hailed as classics in the years ahead? Can most of the viewers even remember every storyline?
Most cable programs have adopted Netflix’s strategy, by creating short 10–12 episode seasons, while still airing them on a one episode per week basis. Many new cable shows also aren’t making it past a fourth season.
Additionally, streaming has made it hard to predict when our favorite shows will return to the air. In the past, after the season finale of our favorite shows would air, fans could rely on the fact that the next season would premiere around the same time the next year. Now, networks just kind of premiere new seasons whenever they feel like it.
While Netflix is projected to immensely increase their budget for original programming, one could argue that this does more harm than good. With so much content coming in, it’s easy to lose interest in one program that you once loved in favor of a new program that seems intriguing. When people lose interest in one program, the ratings for the program go down, which is grounds for cancellation of the program. When a program gets the ax, the producers, directors, writers and actors lose their means of income.
Streaming, albeit easy and convenient, has had both positive and negative effects on the creative process for television and film. Creating content for streaming platforms is a big risk, and as Netflix increases its budget for original content, creating impactful art with longevity will be more of a challenge; for television programs on both traditional and streaming platforms.