The Netflix Price Hikes Are Only Part of the Problem
In the wake of their recent password sharing crackdown, Netflix saw their highest subscriber growth in years. In response to that, they’ve elected to raise prices again (their last price hike was in January of 2022). Subscribers have made a big deal about the hike, which sees Netflix’s basic plan rise from $9.99 to $11.99, and its premium plan from $19.99 to $22.99. But is the price increase smart business or corporate greed? The answer is complicated, but it ends pretty much where you expect it to.
The answer is complicated because we (humans) are constantly devaluing art: arts and humanities are the first programs to be cut in schools, despite research proving their importance; crafters can’t sell at a show without hearing “I can make this myself” all day long; the idea that “anyone can be a writer” joined forces with the rise of AI and 17 thousand media jobs were lost in 2023; piracy of films and shows runs rampant in the streaming era… this list could go on for some time, but I assume there are enough examples here to make my point clear. Everyone wants to be entertained and to enjoy art, but few want to pay for it.
The thing is, there’s a lot of nuance when it comes to the discussion around the value of art. At least the paying for your entertainment part. Humanities belong in schools and while some could make that piece of art after 15 years or so of practice, maybe folks should just pay the nice artist and stop being rude. But, while it may seem like those examples have nothing to do with the conversation at hand, they are symptoms of the overarching problem we’re discussing today. Because the flipside of the question “is Netflix being greedy?” is “are we just expecting our art to be free?”
And while lots of folks aren’t going to like this, the answer is both.
The company was absolutely right to crack down on password sharing. And no, it’s not because it paid off for them and they saw subscriber growth. Netflix was right to crack down on password sharing because art should be paid for. If you see enough value in Netflix to be bingeing it, then you should be forking over the cash for it. Whether it’s meaningless drivel or the next prestige hit, you want to watch it so you should pay for it. If you don’t want to watch it, then you’re right to take your money elsewhere! But the increase in subscribers after the crackdown indicates that folks are still interested in what’s there.
Where that answer forks off into “nope, that’s absolutely corporate greed” is the price hikes that have come immediately after. Netflix is right to ask everyone who’s watching to pay for an account, but to increase prices right after seeing their first impressive growth in years? Seems like a classic “if you give a mouse a cookie” situation.
“As we deliver more value to our members, we occasionally ask them to pay a bit more,” Netflix said in their Q3 earnings report.
But what is that added value? Netflix excels at throwing money at programming, but what exactly are they adding that makes the platform worth more money? Stranger Things — Netflix’s long-running flagship series — comes to an end in its next season; The Witcher seems to be in its death throes; The Crown is ending too. One Piece Season 1 was mostly well received, sure, and I still won’t shut up about The Sandman (which Netflix partners with Warner Bros. Discovery on, so they aren’t footing the whole bill), but the point is that Netflix is losing more scripted originals than it’s gaining. And while it’s got a slate of big swings planned out, the oldest streamer in town has become more known for its misses than its hits lately. Is the plan to shift the focus to licensing from other studios? Because even if that’s the case, Netflix isn’t doing anything in the immediate to inspire faith from its subscribers.
For Netflix to make this move pay off, their 2024 and 2025 slates need to be bangin’.
One problem though: Netflix and other studios have been responsible for work grinding to a halt in Hollywood over the last six months. Writers are now back after scoring a landmark contract, but the actors are still fighting for the same protections and better pay. I’ve already written ad nauseam on how streaming is broken and the strikes can save it and how streaming needs to evolve or die when it comes to the strikes and paying people what they’re worth, so I won’t talk your ear off about that anymore (today). The point here is that things are not being made right now, and the things that are in progress are in varying stages that cannot move forward without actors unless they’ve already been shot. With more and more VFX unions forming as workers fight against crunch, things could start getting dicey there too. And all those Korean shows fans have dove into since Squid Game? Their artists want protection as well. As they should. So what is that 2024 slate even going to look like?
This move feels more like Netflix continuing to make plays as if they are still the only streaming network in town.
Netflix produces a lot of things, so it has plenty of “content” stored up that it can air throughout the course of the upcoming drought. But how much of what it has waiting in the wings is stuff people want to watch? And how many titles will need to be moved due to strike delays?
The decision to eliminate account sharing outside of households was a smart business play. These price increases though? They just don’t seem savvy, not in the immediate. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and Netflix will put out back to back bangers, justifying their price increases and creating a must-have product. But this move feels more like Netflix continuing to make plays as if they are still the only streaming network in town, and our wallets know that’s far from true.
Will YuYu Hakusho follow in One Piece’s footsteps with fans, or will it go the way of Cowboy Bebop? And was the development hell Avatar: The Last Airbender found itself in worth it? While I hope that both of them rock, it’s just that: hope.
Will you still be around to find out when the shows air, or is this one price-hike too soon for Netflix?
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