Prepare for the End of the Netflix Era

Netflix’s bumpy month is a symptom of a changing streaming landscape

Illustration showing so many streaming options

 Lifewire / Hilary Allison

Our mountain of TV-watching choice is about to grow from foothill to Everest-sized with a dizzying number of choices and more original content than any human can consume in a lifetime. Someday, we may look back with nostalgia and longing at the last decade of “The Netflix Years.”

Netflix’s pole position as our primary purveyor of binge-worthy content is already under attack by excellent content options on other platforms (have you seen Fleabag on Amazon Prime?) and increasingly by media companies grabbing back the TV and movie content they licensed to Netflix for their own upcoming streaming services.

Netflix home screen showing Stranger Things
 Netflix

Bye, Content

This isn't happening quietly, either. When Netflix announced that Warner Bros. was pulling Friends in 2020 (just weeks after we heard similar news about The Office from NBC Universal), there was a collective outcry. While Friends went off the air 15 years ago, Millennials and Gen Z-ers consumed a half-a-dozen episodes at a time on Netflix and fell in love with the relatable, coffee-addicted characters. News that Friends and The Office would leave Netflix devastated a generation (or two).

 But the story here is not why your Friends and The Office bingeing days are soon over, it’s the changing landscape of streaming television and the choices we’ll have to make to enjoy our favorite content.

The Never-Ending List

First, we have to deal with the scale of the problem. The once-manageable list of streaming options will grow exponentially over the next 12 months. This is only a partial list: 

  • Netflix
  • DC Universe
  • Disney+
  • Apple TV+
  • Amazon
  • Hulu
  • CBS All Access
  • HBO Max
  • YouTube TV
  • Facebook Watch
  • Quibi
  • Vudu
  • PlayStation Vue

And with each new service, the studios that back them are pulling their licensed content from Netflix's streaming platform. This content accounts for 80% of its U.S. viewership, potentially turning Netflix into a vast wasteland of "All New Holiday Originals!" 

As more licensed content leaves Netflix, the streaming service will have to rely more and more on Stranger Things-level hits to bring subscribers back.

Even so, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said this week they saw this coming:

“...over 6 years ago, we got into original programming, betting that the license program would be more and more difficult to come by and that maybe the sources...of content to license for will be under different levels of strain.”

It’s clear Netflix is already feeling the strain. The company spends billions on original content and yet, this quarter, the company lost thousands of U.S. subscribers. Rising subscription prices may be one reason, but a more likely one is that consumers are now more comfortable switching between streamer choices.

I know I’ve done it.

Cord Cut

Cutting a cable cord
Getty Images

Not long ago, my Showtime cable subscription ran out before the last two episodes of Shameless. I quickly signed up with the Apple TV Showtime app for a week, watched my shows and then cancelled the subscription. 

If it’s any consolation for Netflix, services like Apple TV+, Disney+, and HBO Max will face similar challenges. Disney will be in a better position than most with a vast company-owned content library that spans brands like Marvel, The Muppets, and Star Wars. That will make it Netflix’s most formidable competition.

As for consumers, in a way we’re returning to the days where broadcasters attempted to build blocks of original programming to hold us for one or more weeknights. I remember growing up with ABC’s Happy DaysLaverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy night of programming and, a decade or so later, NBC’s Must-See Thursday nights. We were loyal to any of these networks only for as long as they provided us with high-quality, cannot-miss content. When these shows jumped the shark, we lost interest and we moved on, often to a different network.

Click to Switch

Today, there’s the barrier of subscription payments, but none will cost more than $13 a month (most under $8) and stopping and starting subscriptions is, as I said, easy.

I used to believe that services like Facebook Watch, with its little-seen but critically-lauded originally programming like Sorry for Your Loss, couldn’t survive in the face of the Netflix juggernaut, but now I know I was wrong.

The content choices are richer, and we get to watch what we want, when we want to, but ultimately streamers are today’s broadcast networks and they’re just as susceptible to a channel change as ABC, NBC and CBS ever were.