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Is Netflix Doomed?

All the “Netflix is doomed” opinions either miss or ignore the sheer amount of content and internationalization the platform’s achieved. Whether it deserves to be doomed or not, the other large streamers come nowhere close to matching its output.

That may be seen as producing a lot of volume for volume’s sake, and while that may be true to some extent, it overlooks three elements:

1. People watch volume for volume’s sake. Always have, always will. That’s not an argument against their future viewing numbers, it’s an argument for it.

2. That much output fills in a lot of gaps that other streaming services are missing. Enough niche audiences in one place is a subscriber base.

3. The streaming services producing a limited amount of exceptionally high quality content (what’s up, Apple TV), are nowhere close to leading the field.

The component that’s nearly always missed is the strength of Netflix’s international production and distribution agreements. Of Netflix’s top 10 most watched seasons ever, four are non-English. That’s “Squid Game” (#1), “Money Heist”, (#3, #6), and “All of Us Are Dead” (#9).

Aside from “Money Heist”, a huge number of Spanish-language series hover outside the top 10 (“Elite”, “Who Killed Sara?”, “Dark Desire”), and that’s before getting into their investment in telenovelas. Netflix is hardly the biggest player in Spanish content with Univision and Pantaya are in the field. HBO Max and Peacock also pay a lot of attention to Spanish-speaking audiences, but Netflix has had a number of both Spanish and Latin-American hits.

They’ve got a ton of French, Filipino, Indian, Nigerian, and Turkish content (although their relationship with India is routinely tenuous). They have a range of content from across Southeast Asia that puts most other streamers to shame. Many streaming services have some content in the world’s most spoken languages, but Netflix adds to this by reliably boasting new content in French and Arabic (the fifth and sixth most spoken languages in the world). They’ve found a successful niche in the landscape of original anime.

Not only is Netflix putting out more content than other streaming services, their content is diversified across a wide range of audiences. Not only do those audiences have a deep well of content to watch on Netflix, but they’re watching each others’ content as well. This includes English-speaking audiences who are reliably watching K-dramas – not just the hits, but across the board – as well as Spanish-language content. Turkish series have proven popular across a range of cultures. “Money Heist” was so popular in Korea that there’s a K-Drama Money Heist that premiered this month. And while the original was from Spain, one of the most overlooked cultural relationships that’s grown over the last several years is the one between Korea and Latin America, particularly in music but also in watching each others’ shows. One of the best places to do that is Netflix.

This isn’t meant as a defense of Netflix. There is a lot to legitimately criticize about them. Ultimately, I don’t know that they’re particularly better or worse than other streaming platforms. I do think that trying to assess their future health while ignoring their unparalleled international footprint as a platform can lead to inaccurate narratives. Netflix easily has the most diverse range of audiences, which will react in different ways to different decisions. They’re not doomed because they’ve upset American viewers, and as much as I may want “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”, “GLOW”, “Teenage Bounty Hunters”, “The OA”, or “Altered Carbon” to continue, canceling English-language shows is neither enough to chase away audiences looking at the rest of the world’s content, nor enough to keep the rest from coming back the minute a new “Stranger Things” season drops.

Netflix’s largest subscriber growth in Q4 2021 was outside North America. They’ve already hit a plateau here, but I don’t think there’s any fear of mass exodus, or any reason to fear it. Netflix concluded 2021 with more than 221 million paid subscribers and they’re not in any particular danger of losing the #1 spot. Amazon assessed that more than 200 million Prime members streamed something in 2021, but this is complicated by Prime offering free shipping from Amazon, free games, and other incentives that subscribers factor into their membership. Disney finished the year with a distant 129.8 subscribers worldwide, only cracking the 200-million mark when including unique Hulu and ESPN+ accounts.

Will they lose some subscribers? The plateau they hit during the pandemic may be unsustainable, and as other options mature and viewers increasingly adopt strategies of rotating services, they will lose viewers. I’m sure their own decisions as a company contribute to that. The other big services will take their chunks, especially if Disney rolls out a less expensive, ad-supported tier. Don’t forget the nascent services like Paramount+, which rocketed from 8 million to 40 million viewers in the span of about 15 months.

Whether I agree with Netflix’s decisions or them canceling some of my favorite shows or not, Netflix is hardly doomed. It’s still the healthiest of the major streaming platforms because you can carve a million subscribers off here or there and it doesn’t matter to them. They’re measuring audiences by country and culture at this point, not by whether they’re able to maintain an unsustainable plateau in one market.