Why Do the Movies on Netflix Suck?
No matter how much time you spend sifting through Netflix for something to watch, it always seems like you can't quite find what you're looking for. I mean, I guess I'll watch Friday Night Lights again, but seriously, can someone explain why The O.C. is still not on here?!?! Is anyone else sick of these terrible straight-to-video movies? There's a lot of clutter to wade through to find the really great stuff (here's an up-to-date list of the best movies on Netflix right now -- you're welcome) and it turns out the reasons behind what makes its way to Netflix (and for how long) are fairly complicated.
It's a business strategyNetflix’s success is dependent upon its ability to keep its subscription costs from skyrocketing (although, turns out they're rising anyway). So it has to carefully weigh how much it's willing to pay to acquire new titles with how many people are actually willing to watch them. In the words of Netflix’s Jenny McCabe in a video released by the company in 2013, they have to focus on functioning as an “expert programmer” rather than just a distributor of everything.
Movie studios try to keep the most popular stuff off NetflixYou’ve probably noticed it takes a while for the big blockbusters and Oscar winners to make it to the pages of Netflix. Well, you can blame the studios behind those big, important films, who work hard to squeeze as much cash from them as possible -- keeping them in theaters for months, then releasing DVDs and Blu-rays, then selling digital downloads via iTunes and Amazon. Only then do they hand over streaming rights, which even then can be prohibitively expensive.
Netflix is really into its exclusive contentNetflix is also focused on picking up exclusive licensing rights. In fact, Variety argues that it’s intentionally ended fairly pricey partnerships with distributors like EPIX and Starz (which resulted in losing rights to a huge catalog of hits) in order to spend more money on exclusive and original content -- something many experts see as a savvy business move. What's interesting, though, is that Netflix doesn't even own some of its most popular shows, including Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. It pays a licensing fee to the studios that made them for exclusive streaming rights -- which are temporary. That means Bloodline might show up on Hulu someday.
If no one else is watching your favorite show, it won't last longWhile Netflix is famously tight-lipped about ratings externally, the company pays close attention to our viewing habits. And while it won’t pull any original shows, it will ditch any that aren’t meeting expectations. Which is why they took South Park away, you bastards.
Contracts dictate those random release datesNetflix's release schedule seems erratic and haphazard, with new shows and movies added every few days throughout a given month (here's all the new stuff that came to Netflix for February) but it's not because it wants to keep you on your toes. Rather, it's a byproduct of negotiating terms and conditions with studios -- who may only be willing to license things beginning at a certain date, or for a very specific timeframe.
You can blame yourselfNetflix doesn't want to waste money on content no one watches, so it opts for titles "that deliver the biggest viewership relative to the licensing costs." According to Netflix's former VP of product engineering, the service uses data about members' viewing behavior to predict demand and then seek out the most efficient content. How does Netflix define "efficient content"? Stuff that "achieves the maximum happiness per dollar spent." You know what makes me happy? The O.C. Get on it, people.
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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist and one of very few who hasn't seen Making a Murderer yet. No spoilers, K?