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Column: Netflix needs to reassess its key audience — college students


DTH Photo illustration. Netflix has seen a decrease in subscribers in the first quarter of the year.

Following years of success and growth, Netflix lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of the year. This downward trend threatens to persist if Netflix does not adapt specifically toward younger customers. These are people who crave television and film not only for its intrinsic entertainment but also to participate in a conversation around what they’re watching.

The most popular Netflix shows in terms of viewership are "Bridgerton" and "Squid Game", both of which were released within the last year. Both of these shows have logged hundreds of millions of hours of viewership, and could reasonably be believed to be central to current television discussion. And yet, people like UNC first-year Charlie Brownlee do not believe this is the case.

“Many of the people I know that are watching 'Bridgerton' are watching it in just one sitting. I have a friend that watched the entirety of 'Bridgerton' in one weekend. For most of it, they said they were just doing their homework. This is what a lot of television is. They keep it on when they’re doing their chores or when they’re doing their work,” said Brownlee.

'Squid Game', in comparison to 'Bridgerton,' certainly inspired more discussion and scrutiny, being watched for over a billion hours. And yet, Brownlee still believes that the popularity of the Korean survival drama series has waned since its initial release.

“I did watch 'Squid Game,' and I was talking about it a lot for a while. But when I look back at the last year, and I think about the shows that stuck out to me, 'Succession' and 'Euphoria' stuck out because they had those sustained, episodic releases. 'Squid Game' was very clearly way more popular than those two shoes, but not for as long. I think that the shelf life of that show’s popularity has dropped a lot,” Brownlee said.

This is not to say that 'Squid Game' and 'Bridgerton' are by any means bad shows. It’s just to point out that despite their explosive initial popularity, people do not seem to be talking about them as much as smaller shows like 'Euphoria', which according to Twitter, is the most-tweeted TV show of the decade. In fact, evaluations of how good the shows actually tend to be irrelevant here.

Speaking about 'Euphoria,' UNC first-year Jeremy Lamb bluntly says, “I don’t think the show is good. But it’s fun. I watched it purely to keep up with a conversation, pop culture, things like that.” 

The classic, episodic release style of 'Euphoria' allows people to make the television the social event it was prior to platforms like Netflix allowing for binge viewing. UNC’s Yik Yak was essentially unusable during the show’s second season, as it felt like nearly every post was just a fan theory about the show.

A tangible excitement remains despite the end of the show’s second season, as the renewal for a third season prompted celebration on social media. This isn’t just because people are excited to watch the series, but also to participate in the conversation around the show. They want to make fancams, Wattpad posts or just engage with it. It feels much harder to do so with a Netflix series, which can be overwhelming in its all-at-once release. 

“If you have a show that has a one-time rollout, you can really feel the time pass. We’ve had three seasons of 'Stranger Things' in six years, and now I just have absolutely no interest in watching that show,” says Lamb.

Brownlee agreed, saying “When 'Stranger Things' came out, for a while it kind of was ‘that’ show. And then it just did not really stay in the cultural consciousness after a year. It’s an interesting example because everyone kind of agreed it was a good show.”

Despite Netflix’s quality shows and established reputation, sentiments like these and their own reported subscriber loss represent trouble for the company. Their business model to this point has been built upon people absentmindedly viewing shows and movies as a means of distraction as opposed to satisfying their genuine excitement. They certainly have great content, but when it’s presented with a large mix of other television and film, it can be hard to emphasize and promote the right stuff.

“Netflix announced at the beginning of the year that they’re going to do two or three original movies a week. And then a new season of a show every two weeks. That’s a lot. There’s no way they actually have that much good stuff. Now that the first quarter of the year has passed, you can kind of see that,” said Brownlee.

By contrast, HBO Max, the service which hosts 'Euphoria', seems to emphasize both quality and quantity.

“HBO Max is impressive with all the stuff it has. They have a Turner Classic Movies library. They have Studio Ghibli films. They have Cartoon Network. They have the Warner Brothers library. They have a lot of really great stuff on there. They also have all of the stuff HBO has done in the past,” Brownlee explained.

The streaming revolution Netflix has pioneered against the classic cable model is now being upstaged by that exact cable model: releasing one episode a week to get everyone talking. Being able to stream TV is certainly convenient, but it just is not as exciting as being able to cuddle up with your friends and see what’s going on at Euphoria High at the same time as everyone else in the world. 

The right balance is allowing for that, while also letting people watch the show the morning after in case they couldn’t make it to their viewing party. Netflix hasn’t permitted the balance, so their decline doesn’t surprise me.


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