I do not completely believe in Netflix’s sadness.
I do believe, however, in Netflix’s marketing, which is why, when its Twitter feed on Tuesday announced that “we’re sad” that NBC had decided to take back The Office for its own planned streaming service, it did so in the smartest possible way.
Until January 2021, it reminded its more than six million followers, “members can binge-watch the show to their hearts’ content,” and all that bingeing will be “ad-free.”
Recalling the brief Twitter panic of 2018, when Friends fans thought they might be losing their fix, and Netflix came up with a reported $100 million to keep the show through this year, I’m reminded that a) subscribers still apparently come to a service like Netflix to watch things that would be cheaper to buy on DVD; and b) that Netflix is very good at creating a sense of urgency.
Urgency — the thing that once made “must-see TV” possible — is often sadly lacking in the age of time-shifting and streaming television. Our choices have never been greater, but they’re also overwhelming. Knowing that you’ll eventually want to watch something isn’t quite the same as watching it.
The Office, a great show that was never the Nielsens hit that Friends was, is now a hot commodity. According to the Hollywood Reporter, NBC Universal “says the series is the No. 1 show across all subscription video-on-demand services,” and that it’s been streamed about 52 billion minutes.
Netflix, like other streaming services, doesn’t share numbers, or at least not numbers that can be verified, or compared with those for other television, so there’s probably no telling whether viewership of The Office on Netflix will climb even higher.
But the subscription service has long known the day would come when the networks and studios began to notice that the stuff they were licensing for extra revenue was turning an upstart service into a major competitor, which is why it’s producing a flood of originals — including the cultural phenomenon known as Stranger Things, which returns on July 4 — that no one can take from it.