Netflix and the Perils of Mass Production

by The Cowl Editor on February 9, 2017

Arts & Entertainment

Photo courtesy of pop


By Blaine Payer `18

A&E Staff


Netflix is the current titan of the online streaming industry, and for good reason, boasting a docket of original material such as Stranger Things, House of Cards, The Crown, Orange is the New Black, and Master of None, to name just a few. Entertainment Weekly reported that America’s favorite streaming service is dishing out a whopping $6 billion on over 600 hours of original content for 2017, including two new series as well as continuations of some old favorites. Although Netflix’s stock has risen by six percent in the most recent quarter and subscriptions are at an all-time high, many wonder if Netflix is drifting into the “quantity over quality” and over-hyped star power trends that have plagued television for the past decade.

Now that television award season is over, with both the Emmys and Golden Globes behind us, and people have finally gotten used to writing “2017” in the date sections of documents, it is time for premium streaming services to showcase their big plans for the year. The rivalry between Amazon Prime and Netflix has shown the two companies dueling over awards and subscribers alike for half a decade. However, Amazon has received more awards for their original series’ than Netflix, and they spend, and plan on spending, less than half the money that Netflix does per year on new content.

Netflix’s 2017 budget of $6 billion marks the most money a single company has ever spent annually on content, topping even its own budget of $5 billion from 2016. While Netflix is no stranger to producing hits, it is also growing increasingly familiar with producing flops, such as last year’s highly anticipated talk-show series Chelsea, hosted by the beloved-or-hated Chelsea Handler. User reviews on Netflix gave the show an average rating of one star, even though it was the featured content for two months.

One of the problematic trends that Netflix is adopting is buying big name stars to fill otherwise empty shows. Netflix, and their partner Discovery Canada, began advertising their new show Frontier late last year, showing off a menacing looking Jason Momoa dressed in furs while wielding a tomahawk on promotional posters. The show chronicles the fur trade wars of the 17th century between the English, French, and Native Americans in the Northern territories of America. After finding success as Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones, Momoa is becoming an easily-promotable star, and his involvement in the project is the source of most of the hype. Unfortunately, the show has been panned by critics, including Rotten Tomatoes, who praise Momoa himself, but criticize the lack of any other interesting characters or any semblance of a coherent storyline. Without Momoa, the show would be quickly forgotten, if ever even noticed at all.

The star-power trend is mainly the result of the success of shows like House of Cards, which boasts the powerhouse cast of Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Michael Kelly. However, what sets House of Cards apart is its strong production and narrative that support its big stars, allowing it the freedom of not having to rely too heavily on star power to attract viewers.  

Shows such as Stranger Things are exemplary for having relatively unknown casts, excluding Winona Ryder and David Harbour, but exceptional production and narrative quality. While in the initial promotions, Netflix relied on Ryder to grab people’s attention, the show proved to have legs beyond Ryder, which catapulted it into being Netflix’s most popular, and inexpensive, show of the year.

With such an inflated budget and promise of 600 hours of new material, one must wonder about the future of Netflix’s quality control. It seems like they are more bent on producing more shows than their competitors, instead of producing the best shows. Frontier was an expensive bust, added to the list of other hyped-up flops like Fuller House, which paints a discouraging picture for the future of Netflix original series. Perhaps instead of spending $6 billion on 600 hours of new shows, which could range from 10-15 new series, they should focus on making their already existing good shows great, and their new shows more than an A-list stars running around in circles while wearing funny costumes.