It was a seductive idea.
When Netflix first launched its online streaming platform, it seemed like a true glimpse of the future.
The popular service had made its name by mailing DVDs to people via the mail, an idea that already seems archaic despite most of us having lived through it.
But now it was staking a claim online, saying the future of entertainment was digital.
It was an instant success. Despite a variety of issues — constant buffering in those early days of throttled bandwidth, limited media library, little in the way of original material — people were eager to be able to queue up a movie on a whim online and watch it immediately.
Netflix grew quickly, adding more and more original entertainment to fix that gap in its library, and adding subscribers seemingly hourly. There was nowhere to go but up.
Until, of course, there wasn’t.
This week, Netflix announced it had seen a decline in subscribers for the first financial quarter in nearly a decade.
It turns out when your subscriber list is almost identical with the citizenship rolls of the entire nation, there just isn’t much more room for growth.
Competition is a lot more fierce, too. When Netflix started, it was the only game in town. Now it has to compete with services from Disney, HBO, Amazon and Paramount, not to mention dozens of smaller, niche platforms that provide various curated libraries of everything from sports to horror to anime.
I used to joke eventually someone would invent a service that would simply collate all your streaming service subscriptions into one bill and charge you monthly, thereby reinventing cable TV on the web.
It no longer seems like much of a joke.
But people have instead taken a different approach. Instead of paying for everything and watching some of it, the piecemeal design of current streaming offerings means people are more than happy to drop a service for a while if nothing of interest is on the horizon.
Now Netflix is looking for ways to bump up revenue. They’re cracking down on password sharing. They’re pledging to spend less on developing new shows.
They’re even considering adding in advertising.
We really are recreating cable TV.
None of this makes me miss my Netflix subscription, which I cut long ago (Disney and Amazon Prime are enough to pay every month).
But the streaming services better find a new solution or else they’ll be facing further shortfalls in the months ahead. There’s always something else to watch, after all.
Stephen Milligan is the news editor of The Walton Tribune. He lives in Monroe and is a graduate of the University of Georgia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.