Why is Netflix So Far Ahead of the Streaming Competition (and Can ‘11/22/63’ Help Hulu Catch Up?)
Netflix, prepare for war.
Thanks to this handy Hulu blog post, we know the streaming service has just announced a new event series based on Stephen King’s “11/22/63.” And we know that Hulu will be partnering with J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot Productions to make it happen. Then, a few more details from Variety: 11/22/63 will come in the form of nine hour-long episodes, and if it’s successful, Hulu’s willing to pump out future seasons, “event series” moniker be damned.
One of King’s more recent works,”11/22/63" was published in 2011. It follows Jake Epping, an ordinary dude from New England (as is required of every Stephen King protagonist) who’s clued into the existence of a time portal in the back of a diner. He knows that great power often presents itself alongside great responsibility and uses this newfound power to do the upright thing: destroy Lee Harvey Oswald and wipe the Kennedy assassination from the history books. I’m guessing Hulu is saving “kill Hitler” for that potential second season.
This is a very wide step into Netflix’s territory. Right now, they’re in charge of all the world’s streaming TV credibility. They have the product. They have the prestige. They’re making the best use of that “release all content at once, let audiences tear through it too fast like a sack of precious Halloween candy, then let ’em wait an entire year to do it all over again” business strategy. Netflix could use some competition, and now that Hulu has two ringers (King and Abrams) on its side, the great streaming battle of our time can begin in earnest.
But it begs the question: why does Netflix reign so supremely over all other streamers? Let’s examine the possibilities.
Is it Star Power?
Could be. The combination of David Fincher and Kevin Spacey oozes prestige, and that combination alone likely brought a mountain of viewers to House of Cards. But that’s not the one key to their success. If it was, the relatively starless (does Jason Biggs count?) Orange is the New Black wouldn’t have jackhammered House of Cards in the ratings.
And Amazon’s Alpha House, with John Goodman in the starring role, would have fared far better. It’s not like the show tanked – it’s got a second season on the way, which counts for something – but when was the last time you heard anyone talk about Alpha House? Ditto for Hulu’s Moone Boy, created by and starring Chris O’Dowd, who’s a relative household name. Perhaps you could argue that Goodman and O’Dowd (also Malcom McDowell, who’s got an Amazon series of his own slated for December) aren’t quite capable of matching star cred with Spacey. Perhaps you could also argue that it takes as much name recognition behind the camera as in front (Fincher’s name goes a long way) to sell a cable series.
But celebs alone don’t make Netflix what they are today.
Is it Critical Acclaim?
Alpha House had two Satellite Award nominations. Moone Boy picked up an International Emmy, but Moone Boy is also a weird outlier, because it (and all of Hulu’s weirdly huge cabal of British TV) isn’t really a Hulu original. Go ahead and click on Hulu’s original content tab and you’ll see Moone Boy front and center. You’ll also see Misfits and Rev, neither of which were actually produced or filmed by Hulu in any way. These are all British TV shows that Hulu has the US distribution rights to.
So we’ll only award half points to Moone Boy in the “does awards prestige make the streamer?” category. But we’ll dock it several hundred more for making it so confusing to figure out what actually constitutes a “Hulu Original.”
And if good press was the key to ruling the streaming market, Hulu would be way huger than it is now, because all those Brit shows it’s pasted its name over are lauded out the wazoo. But because Hulu is not where Netflix is right now (and perhaps because proclaiming someone else’s shows as your own is just a wee bit disingenuous), we can rule out critical acclaim as the big overruling factor in making Netflix so humongous and everyone else so microscopic.
Is it How They Release Their Content?
You may not know what Bad Samaritans is. Or Turbo FAST. But rest assured, they’re TV shows. On Netflix, no less, just shows that Netflix put out to little fanfare – like, “Hey, check these out if you’re bored, I guess, but really you should be grinding your teeth into nubs in anticipation of House of Cards.”
Netflix puts out a very limited crop of content, and all their energy goes into plugging two or three key series. I fully expect that next year we’ll be hearing all about Daredevil and almost nothing about Narcos or Ever After High, two series Netflix is totally working on but haven’t really bothered to tell you about. So, to the outside viewer, Netflix has the appearance of only making a TV show when that show is a freight train of hype that explodes through your TV at top speed.
Hulu, on the other hand, has released 16 series in less time than it’s taken Netflix to make seven. Sure, Hulu doesn’t have a creative hand in a lot of what’s branded as a “Hulu Original,” but think of the outside observer in all this. Want to watch a Netflix original? You’ve got like three options. Hulu? Sixteen. Then there’s Amazon, which shuffles out about 10 pilots every year and slowly whittles them down to a handful of shows, which is probably way too involved for a platform trying to court new viewers.
Limited content seems like the biggest factor in Netflix’s reign of stream supremacy. So Hulu, as you move forward with 11/22/63, be sure to neglect all your other programming and pump this as the NEXT BIG THING. It’s your key to victory. Also, try to make it a good series, because that’ll help too.