Even as it celebrates its 27 Oscar nominations this week, Netflix unveiled its mega-slate of 86 titles for 2022. That’s far more than any traditional studio this year.
Thus we learned that a “sea beast” is about to devour a stowaway, 16 nuclear missiles are set to be launched, a female assassin will come out of hiding and even Marilyn Monroe will make a comeback — well, almost.
If you are intrigued by these one-liners, then stay tuned because, as Charlize Theron warns us, “Every night is Netflix movie night.” Translation: Netflix has lavished $17 billion to deliver the goods to its 222 million subscribers – and also raised their fees – so they’d better pay attention.
Over the years, the identity of Hollywood studios has been keyed to their slates: Warners’ noirish gangster films, MGM’s glitzy musicals, etc. If a slate touches all the bases, however, will that guarantee a home run?
In announcing details this week, Netflix trumpeted the creation of vehicles for Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling, as well as for creatives like Tyler Perry, Noah Baumbach and Guillermo del Toro.
In contrast to this glittery announcement, however, Netflix subscribers this week were offered a succession of new by-the-numbers melodramas like Royal Treatment (hair stylist falls for handsome young prince) and Brazen (female novelist solves real life murders), both reminiscent of the made-for-television features of a generation ago.
A grand tour of the Netflix landscape, circa 2022, reveals an array of thrillers (The Gray Man from Joe and Anthony Russo), suspense (Knives Out II from Rian Johnson) and even the inevitable dog weepie (Rescued by Ruby). Legends like Bayard Rustin and Shirley Chisholm will regain the spotlight. So will Marilyn Monroe in the form of Blonde, based on a Joyce Carol Oates novel that re-imagines “the private story” of the young sex symbol.
Each of Netflix’s varied titles, to be sure, will face its own internal battles: Will it be accorded promotional clout? Or access to potential theatrical windows? The titles of some of the streamer’s films like Bubble, Boo, Black Crab or Monkey Man seem designed to defy their prospects. Will Slumberland, a drama, challenge viewers not to click off (a common reflex greeting Netflix product)?
Identifying the actual “sleepers” is a game played by Netflix executives, who covet their surprises. Squid Game from Korea rewrote television history accounting for 1.65 billion hours watched. The $450 million deal for Knives Out II rewrote the economics of the sequels business.
Will that bet be rewarded? The metrics of streaming have become as complex as streamers’ production schedules, with analysts summoning up “average revenue per user” and gurus like Michael Nathanson asking: “Are we sure streaming is a good business?” Some analyses, for example, suggest that the ultimate return on a hit like Red Notice, Netflix’s recent $200 million blockbuster, will rate well below that of Avengers: End Game, the theatrical blockbuster from Marvel. That debate lingers on.
Metrics aside, the bottom line for Netflix and its rivals is to build subscriber lists — and also to sustain them. Half of the American viewers who signed up with Disney+ for Hamilton were gone within six months, according to The Wall Street Journal. Citing data from Antenna, a subscriber measurement company, it also reported that half of the sign-ups for Peacock (Comcast’s service) during last summer’s Tokyo Olympic games also vanished in four months.
Netflix’s 22% stock plunge a month ago following reduced forecasts for subscriber growth dramatize the edginess of the market’s attitude. “There’s more competition than there’s ever been,” Reed Hastings, the co-CEO of Netflix acknowledged, albeit with a yawn, “but there’s also no qualitative challenge out there.”
Sleep and video games, he maintains, are the only rivals to a company capable of generating 27 Oscar nominations in 2021 and following them up with 86 releases in 2022.