Netflix just announced it lost 970,000 subscribers in quarter 2 – a continuation of the downward trend that started a few months ago, when an announcement about Netflix’s state of affairs sent its stock plunging.
While the subscriber loss is not nearly as bad as Netflix and investors feared (they were anticipating double that number), it does show the effects of increased competition as more and more streamers vie for programming and subscribers dollars. However, for comedy fans the struggles of Netflix may come as no surprise. While Netflix used to be the place for great stand-up specials, it’s been more and more overshadowed in that department by its competitors.
Back in 2017, the state of stand-up on Netflix looked bright. The company announced that they would be putting out a stand-up comedy special every week for an entire year. What followed was a flood of comedy talent being given money and a platform.
What seemed on the surface to be a good thing had its troubles, however. On the one hand, a lot of relatively smaller comedians were given an unexpected level of exposure and fame, it also brought new levels of negative attention and criticism. Suddenly a lot of comedians were getting specials arguably before they had honed their craft, the result was too much unready comedy that in many ways overinflated the market value.
But the real damage came from the sudden fall. For a brief moment, comedians were able to turn to Netflix for the next stage in their careers, relying on the deep pockets of one of the biggest companies in the world.
Unfortunately, the change came fast. In the following years, Netflix steadily produced fewer and fewer stand-up specials as they seemingly abandoned trying to produce a bunch of smaller shows to fit various comedy niches. Hour specials became half-hours, then came 15 minutes in an effort to adjust to the seemingly changing attention span of the watchers. Viewers were shedding their watch time, but was that a result of the too much stand-up material not being worthy of an hour or the rise of shortform video platforms like TikTok and Reels? The answer is probably somewhere in between.
As a result, we saw lest risk and a larger piece of the available production dollars go to less people and huge established acts like Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld. Comedians with established fame, fans, and brand awareness. Thus leaving smaller comedians building their career with the hope of their own Netflix special, high and dry.
For Netflix, the problem lies in that if they have decided to focus on these big, prestige comedy specials, they’re now competing with other platforms who have done this for years. HBO, for example, is already known for producing these kinds of projects for decades. Netflix is just playing catch-up.
Fortunately for comedians, many were able to see which way the wind was blowing and switch up their business models beforehand.
The past few years saw podcasts, stand-up specials and comedy sketches – made by pretty big name comedians – going either directly to the public through YouTube or circumventing streamers entirely by self-distributing. With COVID arriving when it did, comedians were forced to find alternatives to touring and performing live. But part of it can also be credited to comedy often being the entertainment industry leader. The trend had begun, COVID sped it up.
When streaming first became popular, stand-up comedians were some of the first to make the switch. And as the industry shifts again, comedy leads the mainstream entertainment movement. Watch out to see where it goes next.