Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of popular video streaming service and original content producer Netflix, sounds like he might be going a bit stir-crazy or might be getting a bit drunk off Netflix’ massive success when he says that he wants more Netflix original shows to fail. He might have a point when he explains his stance fully, but it’s a very weird way to put it.
“Our hit ratio is way too high right now,” Hastings noted in an interview conducted yesterday by CNBC, referring to the fact that virtually no Netflix original shows have been cancelled after one season (The Get Down is the only exception).
Hastings’ point rings true. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Bojack Horseman, Master of None, Stranger Things… the list of extremely popular shows that Netflix produced for its own service goes on and on.
Still, the idea that the CEO wants Netflix to be less successful, no matter what the reasoning is, seems a bit out-there.
Hastings attempts to justify his statement by saying that such a high hit rate means the people who produce Netflix originals obviously aren’t taking enough risks.
“I’m always pushing the content team: We have to take more risk; you have to try more crazy things. Because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”
Taking risks, Hasting claims, is the best way to produce shows that tap into an as-of-yet undiscovered need and create earth-shaking hits. It will also produce some massive failures that no one will understand, but that’s a price Hastings says he doesn’t mind paying.
“You get some winners that are just unbelievable winners, like 13 Reasons Why,” Hastings notes. “It surprised us. It’s a great show, but we didn’t realize just how it would catch on.”
The reason Hastings uses the example of 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix original series released in March, is because it took an in-depth and sometimes disturbing look at suicide that could have alienated a lot of people. It was certainly a risk Hastings wants more of, and, although the show did indeed alienate some — Business Insider reports even some mental health experts claim disapprovingly that 13 Reasons Why romanticizes the act of taking one’s own life — it turned even more into die-hard fans because they had never seen anything like it made by a professional studio.
The odd thing is, the big hit Netflix shows mentioned above (Bojack, OITNB, Stranger Things, etc.) are not really that traditional. You’ve got an animated adult comedy about a burnt-out movie star who happens to be a talking horse, an ensemble dramedy about a corrupt women’s prison with progressive inmates, and a Stephen King-inspired sci-fi horror serial about interdimensional monsters. Sure, there are also much more traditional Netflix originals like Flaked and Real Rob, but Netflix originals tend to be fairly diverse and touch upon relatively sensitive issues as a rule. They’re things traditional TV shows just don’t do, and the public has shown it prefers those things in their video entertainment. Is it possible Netflix shows do take risks for the most part, and they are almost all successful because the public loves most “risky” shows?
Either way, Hastings says that Netflix is going to keep increasing its funding for original content and keep producing new series in order to stay ahead of Hulu and Amazon, two other companies who are upping their video streaming efforts.
Hastings says that, going forward, Netflix will increase its originals budget “a lot. As we grow the membership base, we want to grow the content budget. There are so many great shows on Netflix, but there are so many great shows we don’t yet have.”
The annual budget for Netflix originals is already $6 billion for 2017; the idea that it will grow even more is pretty amazing.
Hastings added that Netflix is not trying to become a replacement for TV. If anyone is going to do that, he would prefer to leave it to behemoths like Amazon, while Netflix remains more of an artsy specialty content creator.
“If we try to out-Amazon Amazon, then that’s a losing battle,” he detailed. “So what we have to do is be the specialty play. We are trying to be Starbucks, and they are trying to be Walmart.”
It seems unlikely that Reed Hastings has actually gone off the rails, but his claim about how he’d like to see Netflix produce more flops seems pretty wild. Do you agree with him that Netflix could benefit by getting even further from the norm with its original content, or are things good as is? Leave your opinion in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]