Netflix isn’t a company that talks about its failures.
Executives at the company, including CEO Reed Hastings, go out of their way to not talk about failures. Numbers for original shows or films are never released, certain series are renewed to the bewilderment of critics and whenever pressed about the success of new titles, the answer is usually just, “it’s popular.”
All of which is why it was surprising to hear Hastings confess today that while the network hasn’t suffered from any “significant misses” on the television side, the company’s original movies could do a little bit better. Hastings pointed to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, the sequel to Ang Lee’s celebrated 2000 film as an example of a significant miss on the network’s part.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [Sword of Destiny] didn’t get viewed by as many people relative to its cost,” Hastings said during CodeCon, a conference put on by Polygon’s sister site, Recode. “We’re always trying to be candid with our investors and we haven’t had any significant misses on our series side, but that was one that we did and we talked about it.”
Hastings said it’s always been Netflix’s goal to make movies that everyone wants to watch. During Netflix’s last quarterly report, the company announced that its batch of Adam Sandler movies — including The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6 — were some of the most popular movies on the streaming service, with viewers watching more than 500 million hours of his films. Whether or not that’s accurate can’t be confirmed because, again, Netflix doesn’t release official numbers.
While Hastings has admitted that some of the films didn’t perform as well as they had hoped, it is interesting that he doesn’t consider any of Netflix’s original series to be significant misses. Netflix is a company that relies entirely on subscriptions, and Hastings confirmed today they weren’t going to look into ad-supported revenue anytime soon. As such, Netflix relies entirely on exclusive titles and, most importantly, successful, exclusive titles that will get people to spend $8 a month.
Not all of Netflix’s shows have been well-received, though. Will Arnett’s Flaked was renewed for a second season despite almost unanimous, negative reception from critics and Marvel’s recent Iron Fist was also panned. It’s become rare for Netflix to cancel a show — not impossible — but the question is if that’s because the viewership numbers have matched the cost of what the series cost Netflix. Until numbers are released, it’s impossible to know.
But Hastings has acknowledged that failures are needed — and because of how successful the company is doing, now’s the time to take chances they couldn’t previously.
“If anything, what I push our content team on is they should have more things that don’t work out,” Hastings said. “You gotta get more aggressive. The drive toward conformity as a company as you grow is very substantial, so as a leader, you’re always trying to get people to take risks, take bets [and ] not be safe.”
Part of pushing the content team to developing more shows, Hastings added, is my giving them more of a budget to work with. Hastings confirmed they would be spending more than the originally proposed $6 billion to develop new series and films over the next few years, with the goal to make the streaming service at least half of its offerings original programming.
Netflix’s next big movie, War Machine, is currently receiving mixed reviews. It’s available to stream now. Unfortunately, we may never know if it’s a win or a significant miss for the company.