EletiofeNetflix Isn’t About Flicks Anymore

Netflix Isn’t About Flicks Anymore

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“Netflix” was always a bit of a misnomer. In a well-worn piece of Silicon Valley lore, cofounder Reed Hastings once said “there’s a reason we didn’t call the company DVD-by-Mail.com,” noting that the service was always meant to evolve into a streaming platform. In choosing that moniker—rather than, say, Netshowz—the company positioned itself as a place for movies. Flicks, though, have never been its strongest suit.

Not to say that Netflix doesn’t have good movies—each year they pull out at least one or two Oscar contenders—but its series will always be what keeps its 260 million-plus subscribers coming back. Even when their shows get canceled after two seasons. Its first big hits were House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black and if there’s anything on the service making waves right now, it’s the Patricia Highsmith adaptation Ripley (as in the Talented Mr.) or (somewhat controversially) Baby Reindeer. This week, when WIRED went about compiling our list of movies to watch on the service, the pickin’s were slim.

It’s not just Netflix. Right now the best things to watch on almost any streaming service are shows. Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max, despite being the reincarnation of something once called Home Box Office and having a back catalog full of Warner Bros. films, has people frothing over its upcoming seasons of House of the Dragon and The Last of Us. Sure, it has the Dune films, but it’s possible people will keep coming back for its Bene Gesserit spinoff series, Dune: Prophecy.

Disney+ similarly has the entire back catalogs of Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars, but staked a claim when it launched by offering original series like Andor and Loki. This week, Disney CEO Bob Iger conceded the company “tried to tell too many stories” in the beginning, but that doesn’t mean X-Men ‘97 isn’t one of the most talked about things on the platform right now. Or, consider this, Disney+’s most-watched movie in 2023 was Moana, with nearly 12 billion minutes viewed, according to Nielsen. Bluey more than triples that total with 44 billion minutes viewed. Yes, Bluey is the number one show parents love to play on a loop, but The Mandalorian also beat Moana for minutes viewed.

Netflix, much like Amazon, started from a different place than Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney, because it didn’t, and doesn’t, have a decades-old vault of content. But if the last few years have demonstrated anything, it’s that streaming services want to replace television networks—or turn into them—and that means shows. If anything, streamers’ reimagined made-for-TV movies are a special treat, not the main course. Prime Video’s two-hour feature Road House is alright, but the eight-episode show Fallout is keeping the streamer in the conversation right now.

Nowhere has this been more evident than this week’s upfronts. An annual bonanza during which television networks convince advertisers their airtime is the best airtime (if you think it’s painful to watch Ryan Reynolds try to land a Deadpool joke in a room full of suits, it is), the entire dog-and-pony show has gone through a couple changes in recent years. Last year, as HBO Max was mutating into Max, the events got picketed by striking members of the Writers Guild of America. Netflix canceled its in-person event and went virtual. This year, Netflix, Amazon, and even YouTube showed up. Their arrival was so feared/lauded that The Hollywood Reporter ran a piece about how “an asteroid is about to hit upfronts.”

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That didn’t exactly happen, but now that nearly all the major streamers—Netflix, Disney+, Max, Prime Video—have ad-supported tiers, they showed up to come for bigger slices of the advertising pie than ever before. Amazon brought out Reece Witherspoon to announce that Legally Blonde was getting a prequel series tentatively called Elle. The company also announced a second season of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and a new Tomb Raider series. So that’s three shows that used to be movies, or videogames-turned-movies. Netflix touted Stranger Things, Wednesday, Squid Game, and a new show from Mindy Kaling.

Streamers also touted their sports offerings, with some of the biggest news of the week coming from Netflix, which revealed that it would be hosting the NFL’s upcoming Christmas Day football games. Sports have become something of a brass ring for streamers, and Netflix’s move ups their clout alongside Amazon’s Thursday Night Football deal and Disney’s range of offerings on ESPN, which can now be bundled with Disney+ streaming packages. Sporting events aren’t shows, but as streaming services morph into something more akin to cable, they offer more comfortable feeling ad breaks than the ones afforded by films. Some 40 percent of Netflix subscribers are now signed up for ad-supported models and the company has lots of ad-friendly content to give them.

Then there’s YouTube. The company’s Brandcast event on Wednesday trotted out big names like Billie Eilish while also promising that creators, not Hollywood productions, are the future. YouTube is the top streamer in terms of hours watched, and according to company CEO Neal Mohan, it’s “redefining what TV looks like, helping creators reach new heights and using AI to expand creativity.” It also just inked a deal with the WNBA. Mohan, not to be outdone by his colleagues at Google I/O this week, also penned a column for The Hollywood Reporter calling for creators to be eligible for Emmys. Creators, Mohan wrote, are pushing boundaries when it comes to using AI and, if we’re all cool with that, then they should be celebrated just the same.

Creators also provide something no sporting event, no miniseries, no film does: short-form video. As streamers duke it out trying to land the next Big Game or The Bear, younger viewers are already locked into MrBeast and Skibidi Toilet. Maybe it’s time someone in Silicon Valley dreamed up Netskits.

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