Since first moving into original programming in 2012, Netflix has gone from a fringe curiosity to a major player in film and TV, actually living up to the mantle of “disruptor” that so many tech companies try to claim. But even by that standard, the last few months have been a whirlwind, with Netflix making several of its biggest acquisitions yet: securing a deal with the juggernaut TV producer Shonda Rhimes, luring David Letterman out of retirement, buying Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee series, giving the green light to shows by the Coen brothers and Steven Soderbergh, and optioning an entire comic-book brand (the indie Millarworld, which birthed the cult-favorite film Kick-Ass).
In a recent, wide-ranging interview with Variety, Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos made it clear the company had no plans to let up: It’s looking to increase its original offerings until they make up half of the service’s entire library, aiming to spend $7 billion on content next year. Reading Sarandos’s comments, it’s clearer that the phrase that’s been used to describe this era of abundant television—“Peak TV”—is only part of the picture. We’re really in an era of Peak Netflix, where the company is launching such an unprecedented volume of new programming that its more traditional rivals have to choose between spending into oblivion or possibly having their shows swamped.
Netflix has seen its share of flops in the last couple years. The Naomi Watts-starring drama Gypsy, one of its big 2017 launches, was quickly canceled, as was the comedy Girlboss. Expensive epic TV shows like The Get Down and Sense8 struggled to click with a wide audience and were canceled early. And while other 2017 offerings like Santa Clarita Diet, Friends From College, and Ozarksecured renewals, each debuted to mixed reviews and couldn’t quite capture the zeitgeist. The same goes for the company’s original films, which so far have failed to crack the Oscar market.
But for all those misses, Netflix has had plenty of hits, some unsurprising (its stable of Marvel shows), some more so (the teen-suicide drama 13 Reasons Why, the 1980s female wrestling dramedy Glow). Even bigger is Stranger Things, one of the very few TV programs that rivals Game of Thrones as a genuine “water-cooler” hit, cutting through the glut of niche TV. Netflix’s strategy is to get these shows by casting a massive net; risk-taking, in Sarandos’s eyes, is much more appealing than releasing a hit every time.