5 things Netflix needs to do to fend off competition from Disney and Apple streaming services in 2019
With both Disney and Apple launching their streaming services in 2019, the market's going to suddenly get very rich and very crowded. So what does Netflix need to do to keep its "streaming giant" status?
If 2018 is considered the year Netflix finally became a brand to reckon with in the film business, 2019 might just be the year that goes down as the one that saw Netflix's virtual dominance of the streaming content sphere take a huge hit.
News that both Disney and Apple are entering the streaming market has been around for a while, but now it's upon us, and the seismic shifts have been felt for a few months now. Take, for instance, the evaporation of Marvel content from Netflix, ostensibly so they can resurface with Disney: 'Daredevil' and 'Luke Cage' fans may have to wait till 2020, however, before their shows are rebooted on Disney's platform.
Now while Marvel's TV project has not gone as swimmingly as its film one, there was still a lot of its content that drew a host of subscribers to Netflix, and with DC getting its own streaming service, it could leave Netflix relatively superhero-free in 2019.
Disney has the financial muscle to strongarm Netflix, but does it have a legacy of supremely high quality? Not really, that mantle lies with Apple, which will reportedly launch its own streaming service in early 2019. But while Netflix will have Mickey Mouse in its crosshairs, it needs to keep a close eye on its other rival. Apple is said to have plans to spend $4.2bn on original programming by 2022, which is still a long way from Netflix's own original programming budget of $6.8bn, but with an extreme focus on big names, and, hopefully, high quality it could make a large dent.
So what does Netflix have to keep in mind to stay ahead of the game in 2019? Let's add our two penny's worth.
1. Increase focus on films
In 2018, Netflix really stretched their filmmaking muscle. From the millennial-pleasing 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before' to the strange but beautifully wrought Sandra Bullock-starrer 'Bird Box', the company began to really develop its credentials. Of course, the crowning glory came with Alfonso Cuarón's 'Roma', a film that drips pedigree and is widely-tipped as a frontrunner in the race for the Best Picture Oscar ('A Star Is Born' and 'Vice' may have something to say about that, but still).
'Roma' proved that Netflix could get into the ring with the big studios and deliver something close to a knock-out punch. Of late Netflix seems to be better at films than TV shows, and maybe that's where its focus should eventually gravitate to. All eyes will now be on Netflix's 2019 movie flagship, Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman', starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (yes, we had that feeling too). With a reported budget in excess of $150 million it could finally cement Netflix as a bonafide film giant.
2. Go for quality, not volume
Netflix produced a host of TV shows that were absolute pants in 2018. From the debacle that was the final season of 'House of Cards', to the atrocious 'Insatiable', it wasn't a very good year (anybody citing 'The Bodyguard', that was a BBC production).
Of course, supporters will point to shows such as 'Atypical', 'Altered Carbon', 'The Haunting of Hill House' and 'The Crown' as proof that the service hasn't lost any of the mojo that made it a global leader. But considering the amount of original content being put out by Netflix, you'd think they'd have a better success rate. And therein lies the problem. Maybe Netflix needs to sit down and take stock at the number of shows they're creating, after all, Disney will blow them out of the water in that regard.
Netflix needs to take a leaf out of the HBO and Showtime books (still producing the best TV shows by far) and opt for extremely high quality programming over the conveyor belt of mediocrity. The problem with global domination, some might say, lies in the word 'domination', which indirectly translates into volume, humbug!
Apple has dominated the high-end personal tech market for decades relying solely on quality and innovation, and that company is likely to bring that same approach to its streaming service. Apple has already hired a formidable brain trust: People who have been responsible for the likes of 'Narcos', 'Breaking Bad', 'Sherlock', 'Luther', and 'True Blood', to name a few iconic shows. Netflix is at a crossroads, the path it next chooses, may be its most important decision yet.
3. English is done and dusted
One thing Netflix has done exceptionally well, is acquire the distribution rights to some superb non-English films and TV shows from around the globe. From Brazil's 3% and Spain's Money Heist, to Italy's Suburra and Israel's Fauda, the quality is impeccable and far better than anything original Netflix has to currently offer in English. Maybe this is the way forward for the service when it comes to TV shows. Make fewer original TV shows, but of a much higher quality, and hoover up rights to the best non-English shows out there. And while this is happening the company can focus on its film business and on creating non-English original content for its mushrooming global audience.
If, however, there was ever a sign in 2018 reminding Netflix to never take its eye off the ball, then it's the blow that was tellingly delivered by HBO. For all Netflix's global muscle and keen eye for a good non-English show, they were completely gazumped when HBO and Italian networks RAI and TIMvision released 'My Brilliant Friend', arguably one of the best TV shows released in 2018, in any language.
Netflix cannot let down its guard, while there may be few that are bigger, there are quite a few who are better, and that's a fact of life the service will have to deal with.
4. Never forget the dark horse
All this talk about Netflix's upcoming battle with Disney and Apple tends to cloud over the fact that there is a rather large fourth player in the streaming industry, and it's been producing some rather good content: Meet Amazon. With a budget in excess of $8bn to spend on original programming, Amazon makes Netflix look like the young upstart.
Amazon may have only produced a fraction of the original programming Netflix did in 2018, but what they did produce was electrifying. 'Jack Ryan' was a revelation that has picked up the baton dropped carelessly by 'Homeland' over the last couple of years. 'Homecoming' may have been an acquired taste, but then again so is the finest malt whisky. And with 'The Man in the High Castle' and 'Goliath', Amazon proved it not only knew how to make good shows, but sustain them as well.
Amazon already have two highly-anticipated shows slated for early 2019 in Neil Gaiman's 'Good Omens' and 'Carnival Row', but it is what's coming further down the line that should really have Netflix worried. Playing off the huge success of HBO's 'Game of Thrones', will come Robert Jordan's 'The Wheel of Time' series and a mooted 'Lord of the Rings' show.
Amazon also seems to be looking at science fiction as a route to the top: Having already saved the superb 'The Expanse' from the TV boneyard, they've also lined up Iain M Banks's 'Consider Phlebas', and Larry Niven's legendary 'Ringworld'. Fighting Disney on the hills and beaches of an entertainment battlefield is all well and good, but the new world rescuing the old may come in the form of Amazon, if Netflix are not careful.
5. Diversify your content
If anything, 2018 was also the year the documentary regained its mass appeal. Showtime, HBO, Netflix, A&E, all delivered standout programming in the non-fiction and reportage space that we haven't seen in a long while. Sports continues to attract that highest number of eyeballs and the content that can be created around major sporting events such as the World Series, the Super Bowl, World Cup, not to mention Kentucky Derby, Ryder Cup, Wimbledon, etc, is phenomenal. So why not diversify? No one is doing it in a substantial way yet and while a streaming service for sports may be a veritable minefield at the moment, that can change with a consolidated effort.
With Disney and Apple entering the streaming service playground it's going to get very crowded very soon, and this crowd is playing for keeps. Netflix could do a lot worse than consider a diversified content strategy that will only serve to increase its user base and give it a chance to lay down a legacy in markets very few have. It's a thought.