Netflix reveals it expects to have lost 2 million subscribers SIMON MILLS charts the highs and lows
I was there. A true early adopter, scrolling through the menu, talking about shows in terms of ‘seasons’ and ‘stories’, earthy shunning as if it were some windy old lover sprouting.
For the first year after its launch in the UK in 2012, Netflix offered only an occasional diversion from my normal, homely viewing experience. But then, on February 1, 2013, House of Cards season one dropped out. And everything changed. Forever.
The super-smart political thriller may have been on my small screen, but the impact was cinematic. The opening credits (which you could skip if you wish – how about that!?) were a small arthouse film in their own right. The series starred real Hollywood actors and the story was extremely compelling: relentless pragmatism and manipulation, libidinous smoking, betrayal and corruption. †
As the streaming giant reveals it expects to lose two million subscribers soon, Simon Mills charts the highs and lows of his own love affair with Netflix shows. Illustration: Tim Mcdonagh
Back then, when I was just single and without a TV antenna on the roof of my new house that would allow me to receive BBC, I breathed in every delightful internet-streamed episode of the first season in a single weekend, truly believing I could see a new way to enjoy TV; I call it binge watching. Buying box sets, renting DVDs, paying late return fines—that stuff suddenly seemed like the dark ages of home entertainment. In just two days, I became a Netflix minx, inhaling all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad and then discovering the narcotic, labyrinthine delights of Narcos. Perfecting my deep-scrolling technique, I also discovered weird, quirky, cult-esque stuff (a lot of it was actually about cults – Wild, Wild Country is an old favorite), including a documentary called My Friend Rockefeller which has since disappeared. .
Netflix and I couldn’t go on forever, of course. It couldn’t keep up with the quality levels and I just couldn’t keep up with the sheer amount of stuff available. It was lockdown’s obsession with the service’s new and messy shows, like Tiger King, that marked the beginning of the end. I watched it, of course – all 12 creepy, swearing, intricate, train wreck episodes – but I felt icky and tarnished.
I also started to kind of dislike the snoopy Netflix Recommendation Engine (NRE) algorithm that relentlessly filters content based on your viewing experience. That’s why when you’ve seen Breaking Bad, the NRE will suggest that you might want to see the hideous Jackass vehicle Bad Grandpa. Like The Crown? You will love The Duchess.
So, ten years later, I’m not exclusive. Yes, I still have a torch for the good old Netflix, but I flirt madly with Disney+, Mubi and Amazon. I spend dirty weekends with BBC iPlayer, BritBox and Now. I’m also in the mood for a bit of Hulu. Do you like the sound of me, the dirty, rotten, two-timing content cad? Then you just have to watch The Tinder Swindler – now streaming on Netflix.
WHAT KIND OF A NETFLIX VIEWER ARE YOU?
You know you’ve consumed way too much Netflix when the “keep watching Simon” section of the menu has titles you have little or no memory of. Even more concerning is the fact that you may have watched several seasons of that Scandi noir murder drama less than 12 months ago and still have absolutely no memory of the plot, location, or characters.
THE GENRE OF BUSTER
What’s with Netflix’s thing about categorizing its content using increasingly bizarre and oddly specific names? I mean, what exactly is a “hidden gem, fight the system” movie? Are there any subscribers actively looking for “violent nightmare vacation” movies?
THE DREAM STREAM: MY TOP TEN NETFLIX PICKS
- The Kominsky Method
- You better call Saul
- Breaking Bad
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- wedding story
- The crown
- House of cards
The Crown: Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor)
THE SUBTITLE STREAMER
Netflix is in the unlikely United Nations role of TV, encouraging us to suck stuff from France, Sweden, Germany, and Poland. People who once turned their noses at subtitled television and movies because they were “too artsy” are busy with Squid Game (South Korea) and Money Heist (Spain). Who would have thought that smart conversation at a dinner party would now revolve around opinions about season three of the gripping terrorism drama Fauda… from Israel?
THE RAGER AGAINST THE ALGORITH MACHINE
Yes, I know I devoured Breaking Bad and its excellent spin-off Better Call Saul, but Netflix now seems to be tearing me down as some sort of crack-addicted, lawsuit-obsessed lowlife who might enjoy a grizzled, schlocky guff like The Sinner. Lately, it’s been suggesting I should watch a Ricky Gervais stand-up thing. Netflix, you know I can’t stand Ricky Gervais. Or maybe… you don’t know me at all?
THE MENU BROWSER
Ten years later, the Netflix content I watch the most is called ‘The Netflix Menu’ (and no, it doesn’t really get any better in series four). I sometimes spend nearly an hour scrolling and clicking, desperate for something new and interesting that I haven’t seen (or have?) before by the time I’ve found it, my girlfriend is asleep and I have half a bottle of wine drunk.
THE DUAL SCREEN WATCHER
Sorry, but I blame the ephemeral aspects of Netflix on the fact that I often only half-watch the content. I glimpse — screen-in-screen style, in the corner of my laptop — a show I’m only half committed to while answering emails or paying some bills.
THE NETFLIX DESERTER
During the lockdown I overdosed on Netflix and cruelly abandoned BBC and ITV to spend pretty much every pandemic night self-medicating with The Queen’s Gambit and Black Mirror. I wasn’t alone. Nearly 16 million people created accounts in the first three months of 2020, apparently they started a love affair with streaming.
But it turned out to be just a futile affair, with Netflix revealing it had lost 200,000 subscribers in the first three months of 2022 and warning that another two million were expected to disappear in the next quarter.
Have you ever seen a show called Line of Duty? It’s really quite good. All six seasons are now streaming on something called ‘BBC’.