Last week, Netflix announced in its quarterly earnings report that it had lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter, the first time the company had posted a negative quarter in the subscriber metric in over a decade. Furthermore, Netflix issued a forecast that it expects to lose 2 million more subscribers in the second quarter. The company even announced plans to launch an ad-supported tier, something Netflix has long resisted.
The news set off something resembling an earthquake in the tech and entertainment worlds, as it appeared to call into question all sorts of long-held assumptions: That Netflix would always add subscribers, that it would always out-spend its rivals, and that streaming is the future of entertainment. It even led many to question whether Netflix’s rivals are doomed to subscriber losses as well.
Reasons for the Losses
Netflix listed several reasons why it posted that subscriber drop, starting with its pull-out from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine; if not for that, the company said, it would have been in positive numbers for the first quarter. There’s also much stiffer competition from other streamers, and Netflix grew so fast during the lockdown phase of the pandemic in 2020 that it hasn’t been able to keep up. Also, the company said that has begun to be hurt by password sharing, a phenomenon that Netflix vocally did not mind until relatively recently.
Others had other explanations. For one thing, Netflix recently raised prices. For another, a lot of Netflix mainstays, like The Office and Friends, have decamped to other services in the last couple of years. For yet another, the bottom has dropped out of Netflix’s quality control, with true crime and trashy reality shows all of a sudden a huge part of the service’s identity. And while Netflix is constantly churning out original movies, they’re rarely memorable, even big hits like The Adam Project and Red Notice.
But another explanation has also surfaced for why Netflix has lost subscribers, which is the same explanation that they have for, well, everything: “Wokeness.”
“Woke Mind Virus”
“The woke mind virus is making Netflix unwatchable,” none other than Elon Musk tweeted in reaction to the Netflix news. This was also the reaction of just about every cultural critic who is the right of center, especially those who have blamed “wokeness” for every single box office flop, stock drop, and just about every other news development of the last four years.
It’s nonsense, for a simple reason: Is Netflix any more “woke” than any other streaming service? And more importantly, is there anything about this particular three-month period that has made “wokeness” hurt Netflix any more than in all of the quarters where it gained subscribers?
This was also the reaction of just about every cultural critic who is the right of center
It’s a position held by people who have nothing but seething contempt for anything produced by Hollywood, and have felt that way for decades. There’s also no clear definition of what “wokeness” even is; more people than not seem to define it as “anything in popular culture that I personally dislike.”
Looking at today’s top ten list on Netflix: Is Selling Sunset “woke”? Is Conversations With a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy? What about The Marked Heart? Or Anatomy of a Scandal? I guess Bridgerton is, but then again people who hate wokeness seem to object to Black people appearing anachronistically in a TV show than they do to anything else (Bridgerton is also wildly popular).
Indeed, when people complain about this, what they really mean is “there are more racial and sexual minorities on the shows we watch, and WE’RE SICK OF IT, DAMMIT”
What else could it be? Netflix’s deal with the Obamas? Because that’s been in place for years, won them an Oscar in 2020, and is currently based around such radical leftist programming as Our Great National Parks.
The Cuties freak-out? Also two years ago. The Dave Chappelle controversy? Netflix, in fact, backed Chappelle against the people who were protesting him, which if anything is the opposite of the “woke” position.
In the last two or three years, Netflix’s original programming offerings have moved decidedly towards mainstream, apolitical, normie-oriented viewing tastes, in a way that’s probably less “woke” than the offerings of most of its competitors. Yes, Squid Game had a touch of anti-capitalism to it, but it was also the most-watched streaming show of last year.
Netflix’s most overtly political project of the last year was the movie Don’t Look Up, which was largely panned by liberal critics but well-watched and loved by the general public. In fact, Netflix was probably more “woke” a decade ago than it is now:
The analysis that Netflix lost subscribers because of wokeness is dishonest, factually wrong, and above all, just lazy.