It’s funny, talking to a few people at Netflix this week—both before and after the Big Reveal—there was a sense of indifference about the subscriber numbers. Wall Street and the media might have whipped up the Tuesday earnings report as a referendum on the entire entertainment industry, the most important data drop in the history of streaming. But the people who actually make the Netflix content seemed, from my admittedly small sample, to be a bit numb to the hoopla. Down 970,000 subs last quarter—“less bad,” in co-C.E.O. Reed Hastings’s words, than the Netflix-created benchmark of minus 2 million. OK… great? A projection of 1 million subs added next quarter? That would reverse six months of losses and restart the Netflix growth machine—put the Dom on ice, right? Yet that’s nowhere near pre-2022 projections, and it’s a fraction of the growth rate of rival streaming services. So… maybe the champagne should be Mumm’s instead.
Yay Netflix, boo Netflix; it’s hard not to feel like this is all just a slight variation on the same theme: Netflix is now a slow-growth company. Profitable, yes, with great content, a commitment to working with the best artists, and an amazing 220 million subscribers to consume it all. But its rocket-ship trajectory and $200 billion in market value have gone poof, meaning it’s basically a—gasp—legacy media enterprise that, at least for the foreseeable future, must operate in many ways like the media peers it disrupted, whether Hastings will say that publicly or not.
And, for some reason, he’s still sticking to that disruptor narrative. Trashing competitors by predicting “the end of linear TV over the next 5, 10 years” isn’t just wrong—the N.F.L., which is signed to the broadcast networks through 2033, might like a word with Reed—it feels defensive. As did this comment from the shareholder letter: