An exciting new series every week, all from one provider: When Netflix came to Germany, streaming still seemed like the ideal future of television. But a lot has happened since then. And the fat years should finally come to an end in 2022.

When a new series was announced on Netflix, it was cause for excitement. Regardless of whether it was about the unscrupulous power struggles in Washington or the bizarre inmates of a women’s prison: You couldn’t go wrong with the streaming pioneer’s own productions. And it was just the beginning. The competition for users caused a gigantic flourishing of the dusty format of the TV series. But the peak of the series boom is probably already behind us.

This is shown by the developments on the streaming market this year. After years of growth, the first streaming services hit a limit in 2022: For the first time, Netflix had to announce that it had gained fewer new users than it had lost. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to implement new series projects and then to find an audience. And: more and more providers rely on advertising. All things considered, the end of the series high should be sealed.

Streaming brought the series boom

Even if the users naturally had wonderful times with all the new content: Netflix’s triumph in Hollywood and, with a delay, for series production around the world had the greatest effect. When Netflix set out to stir up the TV market, the group had one goal above all: to create the best possible and varied content and thus to inspire new viewers. The plan worked. Whether “Orange is the new black”, “House of Cards” or “Stranger Things”: The great hits of the streaming pioneer attracted countless viewers.

The success caused a boom in the film industry. After Netflix’s success, its competitors also began to expand their streaming offerings – and also rely on in-house productions to set themselves apart from the competition. For the series makers, this meant a gold-digger mood: no idea was too far-fetched, and hardly any budget too big. And: After the Hollywood elite had been reluctant to show their faces in TV productions for a long time, even the A-listers were suddenly willing to sign up for great series ideas.

Lots of space for niches

The effect was noticeable in the industry. Particularly promising series triggered bidding wars between the streaming services, so many series were filmed that script writers and showrunners sometimes had to be desperately sought. Even inexperienced series makers suddenly had the chance to prove themselves on the big stage. And to be able to implement even small and niche ideas.

The situation was great for the industry and also for the audience. While series on classic TV always had to prove themselves in the battle for broadcast slots, the space on the Internet was endless. This also changed the series: Instead of always having to write the same cliché characters in order to reach a large audience, unusual stories could suddenly be told. Whether the transsexual father in “Transparent”, the two abandoned pensioners in “Grace and Frankie” or the wrecked ex-star in the form of a horse in “Bojack Horseman”: characters that were too cranky for mainstream TV not only became waved through as a series, but was enthusiastically celebrated by its viewers.

end in sight

A few years ago, it became apparent that this could not be maintained in the long term. With the increasing competition and the constant flow of new, additional services, the pressure to succeed at Netflix and Co. had also increased significantly. That had consequences. While Netflix was almost guaranteed three seasons for each new series at the beginning, the group began to discontinue programs more and more often if they did not find an audience quickly enough. Even series with a large fan base like the zombie comedy “Santa Clarita Diet” suddenly ended up on the cross-off list. And left the disappointed fans with a cliffhanger.

At the same time, the quality of Netflix dropped noticeably. On the hunt for a huge surprise hit like “Squid Game”, the group annoyed users with too much mediocrity. The so-called binge-watching, in which a series is looked through in one fell swoop, increasingly turned out to be a trap due to the viewer hype. Because many viewers weren’t watching the same series, the campfire effect didn’t materialize. And even if you consumed the same hit, conversations about it often became difficult – after all, you were rarely on the same page. The big hype was so often missing.

But even the campfire series have started to lose traction in recent years. After the big hype about “Game of Thrones”, the home broadcaster HBO wanted to create an equally great successor with “Westworld”. But the series was probably too complex for the viewers. The number of viewers fell with each season – probably not least because of the numerous alternatives. A week ago the bang came: Not only was the series canceled before the start of the announced final season. The entire series will also be removed from the HBO Max streaming offering. Gone are the days of daring experiments and endless storage on the Internet.

With advertising, the pressure increases

An even greater impact threatens with a changeover that more and more streaming services are now starting. Because the market is saturated and hardly any new customers can be attracted at full price, more and more services are offering a cheaper subscription that is financed with advertising. In Germany, Netflix introduced a new entry-level subscription at the beginning of November that only costs five euros a month, but occasionally shows advertising. With Freevee, Amazon had launched an offer that was completely financed by advertising, and Disney also presented such a model in the USA. The model should prevail, a study recently said: It expects that by 2030 all streaming services will also rely on advertising.

One would initially assume that the advertising should not annoy the existing payment customers. Finally, you can simply turn them off by booking one of the more expensive subscriptions. But that is too short-sighted. Because: It changes the objectives of series productions.

If the goal is to convince as many subscribers as possible and then to keep them, it is ultimately not so important how many viewers a single series has. It is much more important how long the subscribers stay on the platform overall. So as long as they keep finding new content that interests them, there is plenty of room for niches that appeal to a small but engaged audience. This is less the case with advertising-financed offers. What counts here is being able to promise the advertising customers the largest possible number of views of their spots. And thus to guarantee high numbers of calls for individual content.

Mass instead of niche

This is exactly what Netflix does not seem to have been able to do so far: According to a recent report, advertising hits have so far remained below the target marks: Netflix has only managed to actually deliver 80 percent of the promised hits. This is almost more annoying for the group than for the advertisers: according to information from “Digiday”, the group is currently paying back the advertising revenue. The consequences could be felt even longer. If he wants to sign new contracts in the future, advertisers will view the promises with skepticism. And be prepared to pay correspondingly less.

For streaming providers, this means: You have to chase up the number of views for individual programs. As with football games, for example, only the content that guarantees high viewer numbers is particularly valuable. But that leaves little room for niches. As in the classic TV market, Netflix and Co. will have to rely more on mass entertainment. The time of daring, even absurd experiments is finally over.

Sources: Digiday, Techcrunch