Netflix’s Catch-22 Milestone

Ted Sarandos
Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Julia Alexander
August 30, 2022

Back in 2016, a simpler time before Disney+ and Paramount+ and HBO Max and AppleTV+ and Peacock, Netflix’s chief financial officer David Wells made an ambitious proclamation. Netflix, then known largely for House of Cards, but also for Breaking Bad and Dawson’s Creek reruns, would double down on its studio approach: over the next few years, he said, 50 percent of Netflix would be original content. Half

The declaration came at a pivotal moment. Netflix was dominant in streaming, of course, but also reliant on licensed content to feed its growing audience. At the time, shows like Friends and The Office regularly led its internal most-watched lists. But Disney was gearing up to announce that it will pull its content off Netflix, ending a multi-year distribution deal. It was inevitable that Warner Bros., NBC, Fox, and the rest would eventually pull back their best stuff, too.

As of this month, Netflix has finally reached Wells’ milestone: 50 percent of all its content in the U.S. is original. (The news was first reported by Kasey Moore, an analyst who runs What’s On Netflix and who has been meticulously tracking Wells’ progress toward that goal.) In 2016, the edict was a sign of strength and marketplace leadership. Six years later, however, it’s unclear whether the originals push has been an emphatic achievement, or even the right strategy. The milestone, after all, coincides with a perceptible decline in demand and critical reception for Netflix original programming. As the quantity of Netflix originals has grown, so too has the decline in consumer satisfaction. A study from earlier this year by research firm Whip Media found that customer satisfaction for Netflix declined by 10 percent between 2021 and 2022. (In comparison, satisfaction for Disney+ remained unchanged in the same time period, while satisfaction with HBO Max grew.) For every The Crown or Ozark, there seem to be a couple dozen Haters Back Off, Sexy Beasts, and The Ranch