Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) used to have a series of shows set in the Marvel universe. I watched Jessica Jones with my wife, loved Daredevil, enjoyed Luke Cage, watched The Punisher, and really liked The Defenders.
My wife and I also watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt together, and she watched Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards on her own. All of those shows are over -- either canceled or finished running their course.
I no longer have any shows I specifically watch on Netflix (though I enjoy the occasional comedy special). My wife and son would probably watch a new season of Stranger Things, but when that show will come back for its final season remains unknown.
By all logic, I should probably cancel Netflix. We have Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Disney+ and get access to HBO (and the upcoming HBO Max) through our cable subscription. I keep Netflix not because it's useful to me, but because of two reasons that won't be very comforting to investors.
Why do I keep Netflix?
I keep Netflix for two reasons -- neither has anything to do with the quality of the service. First, T-Mobile pays for most of my monthly bill for the streaming service. If I dropped Netflix, because of the offer from my wireless carrier, I'd literally only save $2 a month.
The second reason I keep Netflix is one I probably should not admit to. I subscribe to the service because my mother (who doesn't live with us) uses my account. She watches a number of comedy specials on the service and uses the account way more than we do.
Neither of those reasons says anything positive about the future of Netflix. The company isn't retaining me as a subscriber because of its content. It's holding on to me because it's not really worth canceling due to T-Mobile (and because I'd rather not have a fight with my mom).
What's the Netflix problem?
Aside from the occasional movie featuring a big Hollywood star, the streaming service puts out very little distinctive content that I'm interested in. It produces a lot of shows, but they're not promoted well, and the company's approach of releasing a whole season at one time makes it nearly impossible for shows to gain much social media momentum.
Contrast the Netflix approach with what Disney+ has done. The Mouse House service launched with one major new series -- The Mandalorian. That show got a lot of marketing attention, and it has become a water cooler discussion topic -- specifically because the company releases one new episode each week.
Disney has re-created event television. Netflix spends a bunch of money creating shows that nobody watches (or quickly binges through). It's a situation where there might be a good series or 10 being released by the company, but who wants to have to sift through a bunch of shows to find one worth watching? In addition, even if you find a show you like, Netflix may cancel it after a season or two if not enough people are watching.
On Disney+ nearly every series announced -- mostly Marvel and Star Wars shows -- seems like potential event programming. That's because Walt Disney owns top-tier intellectual property and Netflix does not.
Netflix isn't going to lose tens of millions of subscribers because it's still pretty cheap and it offers a lot of content for the price. In the long run, however, the company needs hits and its current methods of producing and promoting them won't generate hits as readily in a very crowded field.
It would make sense for Netflix to scale back its content ambitions and focus on creating some event television. To give its shows a chance to succeed, it needs to get them more and prolonged attention. That probably means making premieres more of an event and compromising on the all-at-once release schedule so a show has a chance to build by being a topic of discussion.
If this consumer discretionary company does not change, it risks becoming more a membership people forget to cancel than a service they can't live without.