【高端限免】Are you still watching? Netflix and the future of streaming

The streaming company’s fall in subscribers is a moment of reckoning for media groups pouring billions into online platforms | 对于向在线平台投入数十亿美元的媒体集团来说,Netflix订户数量的下降是一个清算时刻。

It is a basic formula in the television business: make a hit show, renew it and lock in ever bigger audiences. But Netflix, which has spent more than 20 years upending the rules of the entertainment business, may have found a way to defy even this convention.
This spring the streaming service will roll out the latest, highly awaited instalments of two of its most popular series, Ozark and Stranger Things. Yet instead of a boost to its subscriber base, Netflix said this week it expected to lose about 2mn paying customers in the coming months, thanks to a combination of intensifying competition, a maturing US market and its decision to increase prices at a moment when consumers are coping with rising inflation.
今年春天,这家流媒体服务商将推出其最受欢迎的两部电视剧《欧扎克》(Ozark)和《怪奇物语》(Stranger Things)的最新一季,备受期待。然而,Netflix本周表示,由于竞争的加剧、美国市场的成熟以及在消费者应对通胀上升的时刻决定提高价格,它的用户群非但没有得到提升,反而预计在未来几个月内会失去约200万付费用户。

Battle of the streamers: Amazon vs Apple

Amazon Prime Video

Cost: $14.99 per month

Subscribers: 175mn (estimated as April 2022)

Hits include: The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Reacher, Good Omens

Apple TV+

Cost: $4.99 per month

Monthly users: 20mn (estimated as July 2021)

Hits: Oscar winner Coda, Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, Severance





热门剧目包括: The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Reacher, Good Omens




热门:奥斯卡奖得主《健听女孩》(Coda),《足球教练泰德·拉索》(Ted Lasso),《早间秀》(The Morning Show),《人生切割术》(Severance)

After years of bending Hollywood to its will, Netflix finally fell to earth this week as it revealed that its blistering, decade-long streak of subscription growth had come to an end. Its share price fell almost 40 per cent, leaving its market cap at about $97bn — down from $300bn in November.
The news served as a gut-check for the streaming industry that has grown in Netflix’s wake. The company’s extraordinary success inspired many of America’s largest media conglomerates to launch or buy their own streaming platforms, including Disney’s Hulu and Disney Plus; Warner Bros Discovery’s HBO Max; NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Paramount’s Paramount Plus. Tech groups Amazon and Apple also launched their own streaming services and content studios in a bid to emulate Netflix’s groundbreaking model.
这一消息对紧随Netflix之后发展起来的流媒体行业来说,是一次勇气的考验。该公司的非凡成功激发了美国许多最大的媒体集团推出或购买自己的流媒体平台,包括迪士尼的Hulu和迪士尼+;华纳兄弟探索频道的HBO Max;NBC环球的Peacock和派拉蒙的派拉蒙+。科技集团亚马逊(Amazon)和苹果(Apple)也推出了自己的流媒体服务和内容工作室,试图效仿Netflix的开创性模式。
That model transformed the television and movie industries and launched a fiercely competitive war for subscribers. But the streaming industry’s growth rested on the assumption that there is a global market of up to 1bn households willing to pay for services. Now, some analysts say the actual market may be far smaller — and that it is time for a rethink of the streaming business that Netflix pioneered.
Netflix’s subscriber warning was “almost like an acknowledgment . . . that this isn’t that great of a business,” said Michael Nathanson, an analyst at MoffettNathanson and a longtime sceptic of the Netflix model. “It makes you really wonder if the media companies should roll back some of their ambition to be like Netflix.”
Netflix的订户预警“几乎就像承认……这不是一项伟大的业务,”长期以来一直对Netflix模式持怀疑态度的MoffettNathanson分析师迈克尔·内桑森(Michael Nathanson)说。“这让你真的想知道,媒体公司是否应该降低一些效仿Netflix的雄心。”

The content arms race


The grim Netflix results appeared to signal the end of a lavish, experimental era of streaming characterised by fast growth, unrestrained spending and a healthy dose of hubris.

Battle of the streamers: Netflix vs Disney


Cost: $9.99

Subscribers: 221mn (as March 2022)

Hits include: Bridgerton, Stranger Things, Anatomy of a Scandal


Cost: $7.99

Subscribers: 130mn (as Jan 2022)

Hits include: Marvel and Star Wars movies and TV shows, Disney and Pixar catalogue, Fox TV shows

流媒体之战:Netflix vs 迪士尼




热门剧目包括: 《布里奇顿》(Bridgerton),《怪奇物语》,《丑闻剖析》(Anatomy of a Scandal)





When Netflix launched its streaming service in the US in 2007, it was positioned as a new format that would free viewers from the stale conventions of mainstream television and the steep costs and rigid schedules of premium cable.
Initially Netflix offered subscribers access to pre-existing movies and TV shows licensed from other creators. But in 2012, the same year it launched in the UK, it began developing its own content, scoring an early hit with the Washington political drama House of Cards. Netflix upended the traditional model of television by releasing all its episodes at once, rather than week by week, so viewers could “binge-watch” entire series in one sitting.
The platform proved wildly successful. In the 10 years since, it has reached almost 222mn subscribers in 190 countries, up more than 750 per cent, and it became profitable for the first time late last year.
Netflix’s rise was aided by a long period of easy monetary policy and a historic bull market run, allowing the company to spend heavily so long as investors believed in the strategy. In an environment of low interest rates, investors searching for yield happily purchased Netflix bonds, funding the company’s spending spree on content.
From 2018 through 2021, Netflix poured $55bn into television shows and movies as it raced to compete with major networks and Hollywood studios. Netflix’s push triggered an industry-wide land grab in which every company had to spend big to win. In 2019, Amazon splashed out $1bn on a single TV show — an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings said to be the most expensive show in history.
“One of the reasons [everyone] invested so heavily [from 2017- 2019] was the theory that for the next two or three years, it was all about acquiring subscribers,” said the former head of a big streaming service. “That window of time was when people were going to make the switch. You had to get them. Netflix knew it.”
一家大型流媒体服务公司的前负责人表示:“(所有人)在(2017- 2019年)进行如此大规模投资的原因之一是,有一种理论认为,未来两三年,一切都是为了获取用户。这段时间正是人们打算转变的时候。你必须得到他们。Netflix知道。”
But the content arms race has only spiralled, as new, deep-pocketed players entered the market and people stuck at home during the pandemic boosted viewership numbers. US media groups are together expected to spend upwards of $100bn on content this year. Netflix alone accounts for $17bn of that.
These sums are “historic [and] precedent-setting”, says Tom Nunan, professor at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, and executive producer of the Oscar-winning film Crash. “These are the types of numbers more associated with the Department of Defence. From single companies like these it’s almost unimaginable — but the numbers are certainly unsustainable.”
加州大学洛杉矶分校(UCLA)戏剧、电影和电视学院教授、奥斯卡获奖影片《撞车》(Crash)的执行制片人汤姆•努南(Tom Nunan)表示,这些数字“具有历史意义,开创了先例。这些超大的数字,更像是和国防部相关的数字。单就这些公司而言,这几乎是不可想象的——但这样的数字肯定是不可持续的。”

Investors change channels


Until recently, Wall Street was cheering the lavish spending on streaming. After Disney unveiled a slate of Disney Plus programming based on Marvel and Star Wars properties in December 2020, for example, its stock briefly hit a record high.
But the sentiment has now changed. A canary in the coal mine moment for the streaming industry came in February this year, when Paramount executives announced big investments into their Paramount Plus streaming service and saw their share price plummet almost 20 per cent the following day.
但现在这种情绪已经改变。今年2月,流媒体行业的一个“金丝雀时刻”出现了,当时派拉蒙(Paramount)的高管宣布对其流媒体服务派拉蒙+ (Paramount Plus)进行大笔投资,次日股价暴跌近20%
Wall Street was unconvinced then that a shift to streaming would improve Paramount’s bottom line. But the Netflix announcement this month seemed to confirm something for investors: that no matter how great the programming, it is unlikely that the streaming industry will ever generate the kinds of profits that television and film groups made in the pre-streaming era.
‘Stranger Things’: Netflix will roll out the latest instalment of the hit series this spring, but the streaming service still expects to lose about 2mn paying customers in the coming months
《怪奇物语》(Stranger Things): Netflix将在今年春天推出这部热门剧集的最新一季,但这家流媒体服务公司预计在未来几个月仍将失去约200万付费用户
“It’s absolutely a lesser economic model [than cable television],” said the former head of a big streaming service. “The pricing you have to get to in order to duplicate the [cable] market is astronomical.”
Netflix announced a number of measures this week to try to weather the slowdown in subscriber numbers. During Tuesday’s video call with investors, Spencer Neumann, Netflix chief financial officer, said the company would “pull back on some of our spending growth”, though company officials say it will continue to outspend its rivals in the industry on making new films and series.
Netflix本周宣布了一系列措施,试图应对订户数量下降的影响。在周二与投资者的视频电话会议上,Netflix首席财务官斯宾塞•诺伊曼(Spencer Neumann)表示,公司将“削减部分支出增长”,但公司官员表示,公司在制作新电影和电视剧方面的支出将继续超过业内竞争对手。
The company will also lift its long-stated opposition to advertising on the Netflix platform, with Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings suggesting a cheaper, ad-supported service could be available in a year or two.
Netflix还将取消其长期以来反对在Netflix平台上投放广告的立场。Netflix联合创始人里德•哈斯廷斯(Reed Hastings)表示,一种更便宜、由广告支持的服务可能会在一两年内出现。
“I’ve been against the complexity of advertising and a big fan of the simplicity of subscription,” Hastings said on Tuesday. “But as much as I’m a fan of that, I’m a bigger fan of consumer choice.”
A scene from Amazon’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Netflix’s push triggered an industry-wide land grab during which Amazon spent $1bn on the TV show — said to be the most expensive in history
But the biggest improvement Netflix needed to make, Hastings indicated, was improving the quality of its programming — the side of the business overseen by co-chief executive Ted Sarandos.
但哈斯廷斯表示,Netflix需要做的最大改进是提高节目质量——这是由联席首席执行官泰德·萨兰多斯(Ted Sarandos)监管的业务方面。
Analysts agree. “Netflix should be creating significantly more must-see TV series and movies that become ongoing franchises,” Rich Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed, wrote in a research note this week. “Netflix’s content, especially its English-language content, is simply not resonating relative to the level of spend.”
分析师同意。LightShed的分析师里奇·格林菲尔德(Rich Greenfield)在本周的一份研究报告中写道:“Netflix应该创造出更多必看的电视剧和电影,成为持续的特许经营。Netflix的内容,尤其是英语内容,与支出水平相比根本没有达到标准。”
This is where Netflix is facing the stiffest competition from its rival streaming services run by long-established content creators HBO, Disney, NBCUniversal and Paramount — not to mention wealthy Amazon and Apple, who are unlikely to need to rein in spending any time soon.
Sarandos, who has worked hard to weave Netflix into the fabric of Hollywood, sounded defensive this week about the need to improve its programming. He claimed that Netflix films such as Don’t Look Up, Red Notice and Adam Project are among “the most popular and most watched movies in the world” (though, as the company does not release viewing figures, investors will have to take his word for it).
Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings has said a cheaper, ad-supported service could be available in a year or two to help stem the loss of subscribers
He reminded investors that the company was still the new kid on the block in terms of content creation. “We’ve been doing this for a decade,” he said. “That’s about 90 years less time than all of our competitors have been at it.”
But Wall Street may have run out of patience. Already, some analysts are urging the company’s rivals to rethink their spending on streaming. Noting that Sony has been making money by selling its films and TV shows to streaming companies — the so-called “arms dealer” strategy — Greenfield suggested that some of the traditional studios consider giving up on streaming and become content suppliers instead.
“While it feels hard to fathom abandoning streaming ambitions with so much capital committed to original streaming programming over the next several years, we wonder if that is the hard decision management teams such as NBCUniversal and Paramount should make?” Greenfield wrote.