Netflix’s only hope is to advertise

4 min readMay 2, 2019

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Netflix Fights to Keep Its Most Watched Shows: ‘Friends’ and ‘The Office,” shared that only two of the top 10 shows on Netflix were original to the streaming service. Those shows were Ozark and Orange is the New Black, and they weren’t the most popular of the top 10. The three most-viewed shows on Netflix were The Office, Friends, and Gray’s Anatomy.

On an earnings call the previous week, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos claimed that the service’s original series are, “the shows that our members most value us for, and the things that we really pay a lot of attention to.” Sarandos was either fooling himself or making a distinction between the shows that people care about having access to and the shows that they actually watch. Either way, I think he’s wrong.

The Journal article is worth reading in its entirety. It adeptly makes the obvious point–a point that many other articles have been making lately–that Netflix is facing headwinds as the studios launch their own streaming services and pull the content that they own out of Netflix and other services.

I’d like to make a less-obvious point. Whether or not you think that Netflix’s original shows are any good (and a lot of people think that they aren’t), quality often doesn’t matter when people are making decisions about what to watch.

Saying that may sound ridiculous, particularly because many people agree that we’re in the golden age of television (or “peak TV”) with more high quality programming available to us from more channels and services than ever before. How can quality not matter?

The Syndrome distinction

In the first Incredibles movie (2004), the envious villain, Syndrome, plans to give everybody superpowers because “when everyone’s super, no one will be.” People like Mr. Incredible won’t be, well, incredible, if his super strength is quotidian.

Likewise, there is so much fantastic television available right now that quality is table stakes for scripted television (things written in advance, rather than talk shows, game shows or so-called “reality TV”).

If viewers can safely presume that whatever they wind up watching will be pretty good (a recent development in the history of television), then what are the criteria that people use to decide what to watch?


Futurist, strategist, researcher, startup advisor, writer, speaker, events veteran & family man.