Let's be clear right upfront: Netflix is still the biggest player in streaming video. It's still far ahead of its competition when it comes to subscribers, and in the depth and quality of its overall content library. Even a bad year is probably not that bad in the grand scheme of things. But during the current streaming wars between Netflix and competitors like Disney+, HBO MAX, Hulu, and Apple TV+, the battle keeps getting more intense.
And, for Netflix, the stakes keep getting higher as new services snatch not only its most popular content but possibly some of its subscribers as well. This leads us to the first reason Netflix could have a rough 2020: Friends.
The top-trending search on the iTunes Store on Wednesday and Thursday is for Friends, which just became unavailable on Netflix as of 12:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Until then it was one of the most-watched TV shows on the platform. Now, if you want to watch Friends, you either buy it on iTunes or wait until the launch of HBO MAX.
Then there's the list of "most-streamed content," that Netflix put out. It was a list of the most popular content on Netflix, except, that's not exactly what it was. It was really a list of "most-streamed content that debuted on Netflix in 2019," which was a fancy way for Netflix to make sure that the list mostly contained content made by--Netflix. In fact, The Incredibles 2 was the only title that made the list that wasn't a Netflix original.
Friends, for example, has long been one of the top five streaming TV shows on Netflix, which is why the company paid a reported $100 million to keep it through 2019. But since that show premiered on Netflix years ago, it didn't make the list. The same is true with The Office.
Neither of these two things seems like a big deal on their own. Who really cares if Netflix lost one show that last aired 15 years ago? And so what if Netflix put out a totally made-up way of measuring its most popular content? Sure, they can do what they want, but here's the reality: For Netflix, it's going to get a challenge to stay on top in 2020.
Disney has poured major marketing dollars into Disney+ and is slowly gathering all of its content from other streaming services to host on its own. The Incredibles 2 and Coco are both highly viewed movies on Netflix, but eventually they'll become exclusive to Disney+. When they do there's a risk that some consumers won't keep paying for Netflix when they're getting their family favorites somewhere else--and for less each month.
Which explains why Netflix released a list that was almost entirely meant to highlight its own content. By making it exclusive to "2019 releases," it guaranteed that it would exclude much of the most popular content from other studios since Netflix barely added anything last year that fits that category. Netflix wants to highlight its own content since that's what it will increasingly depend on moving forward.
Still, the fact that Netflix had to make up a "most-watched" list in this way shows how worried the company really is about losing subscribers to other services. Which, is a huge change. Netflix didn't actually invent streaming video, but in the mind of most people, it's not only the original but is the standard by which all others are measured.
Now, there are not only other platforms to compete with, but those platforms come with huge libraries of content that are likely to attract subscribers. At some point, Netflix is going to have to figure out a way to give its subscribers a reason to stick around. I suspect this is the year we find out if it can.
Otherwise, there's a good chance a lot of them won't. Which could make for a rough 2020 for sure.