Netflix’s streaming catalog isn’t improving — it’s shrinking rapidly

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Once upon a time, cord cutters dreamed that instead of paying huge cable bills, they’d be able to replace that expense with a single online service. Since the cable industry had resisted any attempt to introduce à la carte pricing, the thinking went, the Internet would simply bypass the old guard and deliver a universe of content from providers like Netflix, all at one conveniently low price. In reality, unfortunately, things are trending in the opposite direction.

If the market were consolidating, Netflix would be the obvious choice to lead that process. It’s the largest video-on-demand provider by far, with the most diverse content library and the largest collection of homegrown, self-produced content. Shows like The Man in the High Castle, and Transparent have been big hits for Amazon. But Netflix hasJessica Jones, Daredevil, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black, as well as critically acclaimed movies like Beasts of No Nation. Given the amount of money Netflix has spent to broaden its appeal, you’d expect the company to be adding content left and right. Instead, an analysis from AllFlicks found that Netflix’s total volume has shrunk significantly in recent years.

netflix-comparison

In 2014, Netflix had 6,494 movies and 1,609 TV shows (8,103 titles in total). Today, Netflix offers 4,335 movies and 1,197 TV shows. That’s 5,532 titles in total, a decline of nearly 32% in just two years.

This decline hasn’t stopped Netflix’s generally positive growth, but it’s part of a wider business trend. Last August, Netflix’s deal with Epix for The Hunger Games: Catching Fireand The Wolf of Wall Street both expired. Netflix opted not to renew those deals, supposedly because it wants more exclusive content, not material that customers can watch in other places. From Netflix’s perspective, this makes sense: If you can watch your favorite TV shows at Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, then you’ve got no reason to remain a Netflix customer. If, on the other hand, you’re addicted to one of Netflix’s self-produced television shows, you’re less likely to leave if the company raises its rates or makes other changes some customers might not like. Netflix is investing $6 billion in producing its own content this year, which should illustrate how serious the company is about the shift.

The other reason for these changes is that many broadcasters are trying to launch their own competing services rather than watch Netflix swallow their distribution income. CBS has announced that its upcoming Star Trek reboot will only be available through its CBS All Access service, at a price of $6 per month. Comcast has its own XFinity on-demand service that doesn’t count against your monthly bandwidth cap, while services like Netflix do. The networks that believe they have content they can charge a premium for are either launching services to do that or signing up with partners who are hungry to attract users. Netflix, in contrast, is extremely well-established and isn’t as dependent on offering content that’s ultimately going to be available in other places.

Netflix’s focus on creating new content serves viewers well, so long as the content is good in and of itself, but the long-term trend is pushing towards multiple fragmentary services, not a single unified whole. End-users don’t always come out on top in these scenarios — when Doctor Who left Netflix earlier this year, Amazon snapped it up for Amazon Prime. There are differences, however, between what the two services offered. Netflix had two iterations of Doctor Who — various sample episodes of the classic show, and the reboot version that debuted in 2005.

Tenth Doctor

Amazon is only offering the rebooted version of the show with Amazon Prime (which costs $99 per year), and it doesn’t offer as much content as Netflix did. Specifically, three of the four specials featuring David Tennant are missing, as are both Day of the Doctor and Time of the Doctor. The first special was significant enough to be shown in theaters, while the second is integral to the plot of the show — and neither are available on Amazon in any form.

The feature image used in this story shows 15 movies that I was personally able to identify based on the title or cover art. Of those 15 movies, only three of them — 50 First Dates,Half-Baked, and Can’t Hardly Wait are still available on Netflix. Fragmentation like this means the digital landscape increasingly resembles the old cable industry, where content was spread across a variety of services and locked behind a number of gates. True, the cost of subscribing to every major video-on-demand service is currently a fraction of what you’d pay for a standard cable subscription — but it’s a cost that’s been moving steadily in the wrong direction over the past few years.

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