Along with Amazon and Hulu, Netflix has been single-handedly changing the way we create and consume television. Shows like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Arrested Development have quickly made the streaming service into something far more than a vehicle for other network’s shows.
The age of network television has quickly evolved into something completely different, especially in the age of binge-watching. Whereas before, series programming was tied to major networks like NBC, Fox, and CBS, now we have whole seasons being made available all at once, allowing subscribers to watch everything at their leisure.
With its recent string of successes, Netflix is preparing to go all in on original production in the next couple of years. Variety recently reported on a statement from Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, who said the streaming service is gearing up to offer “about 20″ original scripted series every year. Apparently, the hope is that its wide audience will make it so such a massive offering will always find someone wanting to tune in, no matter the show. The pitfall? That’s a whole other problem.
The other end of the spectrum for this strategy can be seen with Amazon Prime. Its programming takes a handful of pilots, makes them each available to subscribers, and then audiences vote on which ones they’d like to see continue. It’s a system that ensures only the series viewers themselves want get picked up, while the duds are left by the wayside. Amazon appears to be making an effort to avoid putting resources, money, and time into properties that would potentially net a huge loss in terms of viewership and subscribers. And then there’s Netflix.
Netflix’s plan to flood its service with 20 shows a year has the potential to completely dilute the pool of quality. The strategy that’s worked for it so far has seen the company become a bastion for quality television for an elite few of select franchises. Once there are four to five times more options available, there’s no guarantee that any or all of those shows will be worth watching. If too many go the way of flops like Marco Polo and Hemlock Grove, we could see a reputation evolve for Netflix becoming a factory for mediocre television.
It obviously won’t hurt too much of the bottom line of a company with more than 50 million subscribers to produce some dud television, but an unsuccessful run of shows could spell the end of its original production arm. Such a fate would be tragic for a company that’s managed to come out with series that rival anything offered on network TV, just for the sake of putting out as many new original series as possible. Any time you look to appeal to an audience, more often than not you find yourself appealing to nobody in particular.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s pilot program continues on to find the show most worthy of continuation, while Netflix decides to keep that decision in-house. In the coming year, we’re likely to see these two opposing strategies come to a head, as we find out what truly produces the best possible television. On one hand, we have Netflix fishing with dynamite. On the other, Amazon with a hook and worm. The showdown begins.