(Credit: Netflix)

Editor's Choice

Can 'Stranger Things' save Netflix from its impending doom?

Stranger Things season four released its first volume on Netflix on Friday, May 27th, 2022, becoming an instant hit. It smashed previous premiere records on Netflix, amassing a staggering viewership of 286 million hours within the first weekend of its release, proving its undeniably impressive stature.

While Netflix started as a small video-rental company based in California back in the 1990s, they were inspired by YouTube’s unprecedented success and became an internet-based streaming service in 2005. By 2007, they started featuring streaming content, starting its journey in earnest.

From acquiring shows like Breaking Bad which was almost on the verge of cancellation, to finding success with shows like House of Cards, it was not until 2016 that Netflix cemented its position in the streaming wars. After Netflix became a full-blown studio looking to fill its library shelves with more Original content, within less than two decades since its inception, the streamer amassed a whopping number of 221.8 million subscribers.

If you are wondering how the streamer managed to achieve the impossible, it is time for us to thank the gamechanger. Ever since its release in 2016, Stranger Things has had an undeniable impact and unimaginable contribution to changing the course of the streamer’s history. The show was a massive risk created by the Duffer brothers, Matt and Ross. After getting their proposal for making a direct remake of It rejected by Stephen King, the duo decided to make a show that would comprise elements of mystery, adventure and sci-fi and pay homage to the iconic author’s world of horror and mystique.

The brothers took a massive risk by casting relatively unknown faces in prominent roles, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Gaten Matarazzo, and others. The only relatively popular cast member was Winona Ryder. Despite the various obstacles, the show became an instant pop-cultural sensation, surprising the cast and crew and the streamer itself. The streamer witnessed an unbelievable spike in viewership which catapulted Netflix to the very top of the ongoing streaming wars, ahead of fierce competitors like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney Plus etc.

The unbridled popularity of Stranger Things changed Netflix’s reputation significantly, transforming it from a sleepy streamer to one with a massive number of subscribers. The engaging storylines, the brilliant character arcs and the intense premise proved crucial to sustenance, leading to an incredible increase in revenues and profits. Single-handedly, Stranger Things helped bring the streamer’s subscriber count to 158.33 million, also helping it grow its global fanbase, making the streamer an indomitable victor.

With its third season hitting Netflix back in 2019, the show was on a three-year-long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. As it came back in 2022 with the first seven episodes of the fourth season, Netflix is no longer as glorious as it used to be, the last time they housed a new season of Stranger Things. The streamer increased subscription prices in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Australia, leading to many cancelling their subscriptions. People have also been complaining about the dwindling quality of content, which led to a massive subscriber exodus. The sanctions that Netflix imposed on Russia during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, too, led to a number of Russian subscribers withdrawing from the platform. Netflix has faced the worst fall in stock prices in its history and is having a pretty tough time.

While nothing seems to work for the streamer, and they keep making bad decisions (for example, stopping password sharing), the question is, will Stranger Things help restore Netflix’s lost glory? Like Eleven is the only one who can save Hawkins, is the Duffer brothers’ creative ingenious the only thing that can help Netflix out of this bottomless pit of constant failures?

The answer is a resounding no. Upon its release, the show has already been viewed for 286 million hours. Netflix spent $30 million per episode. While they will probably get a double return on this investment, this proves the streamer’s inability to sustain themselves. Netflix seems to be the epitome of “here for a good time, not a long time”.

The massive hubbub around Stranger Things will remain till the very end. While the show is coming to an end with its fifth season (which might air sometime next year or after), what will happen to Netflix next? With shows like Bridgerton and Squid Game, the streamer tasted transient success. But will that remain? Bridgerton seems pretty redundant after a few seasons, for it is the same story where individuals from the upper echelons of aristocratic England fall in love, court each other and marries. Squid Game was an exceptional success as a South Korean series that made history with a viewership higher than Stranger Things (571 million); but how many Hwang Dong-hyuk’s will it take to save Netflix from the impending disaster?

While Netflix continues spending heftily on the Duffer brothers’ project and similar titles with A-listers, they continue to lay off hundreds of employees to make up for their losses and costs. The streamer has also been unable to be as popular in global markets, namely India, Africa etc. Also, if the streamer keeps increasing subscription prices, no matter how desperate people are, would someone really want to pay 20 pounds to watch Eleven defeat the Demogorgon again? We doubt.

Only Netflix can save itself by being selective in producing content. Instead of creating truckloads of content and thinking of relying on ads, they should focus on the quality and give space for more indie voices to flourish. For once, they must let go of the Oscar dream and focus on their initial goal of being an affordable streamer that entertains the world “with no ads, in one simple subscription”.