How Netflix could benefit from stay-at-home orders


Photo by Netflix

The new comedy Space Force, starring Steve Carell, will be released on Netflix in May.

Nick Alutto, Managing Editor of A&E

Out of all the many streaming services that currently exist, with new ones being created all the time, it is obvious that the most popular one has been and continues to be Netflix.  For most of the past decade, they have been slowly trying to become the premier destination for content.

In 2013, Netflix released its first original piece of content, House of Cards. Since then, Netflix has poured billions and billions of dollars into original movies and TV shows, including Stranger Things, Bojack Horseman, The Haunting of Hill House, Roma, and so much more. Although not being taken seriously at first by traditional media companies and movie studios who utilized theatrical releases, Netflix has become a formidable powerhouse of entertainment. Over the past few years, many streaming services, Netflix included, have taken center stage at award ceremonies and in pop culture.

One of the biggest shifts in media consumption in the 2010s was the decline in movie theater revenue. It has become increasingly difficult to make original movies profitable without having a huge risk of having a box office flop. This has never applied to Netflix. Their subscription-based model has made revenue far from their priority, instead they are able to focus on more expensive and creative projects without worrying about returns, like Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman. Regardless of the downward trend of theater revenue, movie theaters still made plenty of money to function and to act as a challenging opponent for Netflix. However, that all changed this year.

With COVID-19 sweeping across the globe, movie theaters have been forced to close in many countries, including in the US. This closure has stopped the release of many major movies and has delayed countless others to next year.

A company that has not been as affected by the coronavirus is Netflix. In fact with people being required to stay at home, their content has become more relevant than ever. In the first weeks of quarantine, Netflix’s new docu-series Tiger King exploded in popularity, becoming the most talked-about TV show at the time. It was so popular that, during one of the daily White House Press Briefings, a reporter asked President Trump if he thought one of the subjects of the documentary’s imprisonment was fair.

Netflix’s ability to release content at this time is an invaluable asset in the industry, which major film developers are beginning to realize. The action-comedy The Lovebirds, starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, which was supposed to have an April theatrical run, was sold to Netflix and will start streaming in May. It seems logical that other movies that were expecting a theatrical release may choose the Netflix route as well.

Granted, if the US and most of the world continue to be shut down, Netflix will eventually run out of content. Quarantines and bans of large gatherings all across the country have made it near-impossible for major film and television productions to continue. Netflix is currently going through all of their content that was already prepared to launch and may be able to release more that have finished filming before productions were shut down. Although this could be a problem in the future, Netflix’s CEO assured investors during the recent quarterly earnings call that “Our 2020 slate of series and films are largely shot.”

The longer people stay at home, the more likely it is that Netflix’s content will continue to reach new levels of popularity. This is also reflected in Netflix’s own subscription numbers. In the first quarter of 2020, Netflix reported 15.7 million new subscribers, which blew away their target of 7 million new subscribers that was set before COVID-19 was as widespread.

Netflix also has content that has been recently released or will be released in May that could garner substantial attention, such as the new action-adventure series Outer Banks. Next month, Netflix has a mini-series from American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy called Hollywood and a new stand-up special from comedian Jerry Seinfeld. What I think will be the biggest hit is the new comedy series, Space Force. From some of the creators of The Office, it follows Steve Carell as the leader of the new military branch, and is filled with familiar faces from both The Office and Parks and Recreation. If done right, this show has the potential to become an absolute hit for Netflix. On top of all that, they are also releasing 11 original movies in May alone.

The effects of the coronavirus could benefit Netflix’s numbers long after the pandemic passes as well. There will most likely be a period where, even though movie theaters are allowed to open, many people would rather watch things in the comfort of their own home and not go to a crowded movie theater to watch a movie.

Although this may not have been the way that Netflix sought to control the film and television industry, there is no doubt that the new shelter-in-place orders will help them. However, the effects that these lockdowns will have on Netflix’s popularity and prominence most likely won’t be evident for years to come. It is likely that, as soon as lockdowns are lifted, people will slowly start going out to theaters again, but the media-consuming world will be one step closer to a fully streaming model.