Netflix can't chill as originals heat up

With apologies to the Beatles, Netflix is hoping money can buy the love and loyalty of subscribers -- a strategy evident in one of the busiest stretches in its history.

What might be called a "peak Netflix" barrage of premieres begins May 12 and runs through June, including the return of the two series that inaugurated the streaming service's efforts, "House of Cards" (May 30) and "Orange is the New Black" (June 9), along with programs that built on that foundation: "Master of None" (May 12) and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" (May 19).

Still, that's just the tip of an iceberg that betrays Netflix's expanded roster, catering to a wide variety of genres and tastes.

Along with "Master of None," the Aziz Ansari comedy, this weekend includes "Anne with an E," a classy if somewhat darker retelling of the 19th-century "Anne of Green Gables" story, starring Amybeth McNulty as the 13-year-old orphan taken in by a gruff brother and sister. "GLOW," starring Alison Brie as one of the "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling," makes its debut on June 23.

    Next week, meanwhile, will see a new comedy special featuring Tracy Morgan -- stand-up being an area where Netflix has spent lavishly, buying up showcases for the likes of Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer and (on May 30) Sarah Silverman. The service will also introduce another true-crime series in the mode of "Making a Murderer," this one a seven-part cold case about a nun's murder, "The Keepers."

    The company continues to illustrate its commitment to movies with everything from its Adam Sandler films to "War Machine," a satire starring Brad Pitt as a four-star general that will premiere later this month. Looking further ahead, the collaboration with Marvel that birthed "Daredevil" and "Luke Cage" will come together with superhero team-up "The Defenders" in August.

    Netflix's push comes at a time when the pressure and competition have become more intense. Hulu has propelled itself into the conversation as never before with "The Handmaid's Tale," while Amazon recently brought back its well-regarded comedy "Catastrophe" and will premiere the provocative "I Love Dick," starring Kevin Bacon, this weekend.

    Netflix hasn't made a lot of friends within the industry in building up its arsenal. Competitors have groused about the company overpaying for programming and thus bidding up the cost for everyone. And Netflix's refusal to distribute user information spares it from the sort of analysis to which even pay channels like HBO and Showtime are subject in terms of judging the popularity of their offerings.

    As a result, Netflix's performance has probably received less scrutiny than it otherwise might have for some of its failures, such as the expensive period piece "Marco Polo."

    In December, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said the company would roughly double its roster of original series this year, estimating annual spending on programming (including acquisitions and originals) at $6 billion.

    At a recent event pushing shows for Emmy consideration, Sarandos pointed to how far Netflix had come in the four years since "House of Cards" premiered.

    For consumers, the abundance of choices is theoretically a good thing, but there are those who have questioned the long-term viability of this freewheeling approach business-wise. Some analysts expressed skepticism about the vast outlay on originals in a Forbes story last fall under the headline, "Netflix Is Still Spending Money Like There's No Tomorrow."

    Time will tell whether that strategy continues to pay off. In terms of the fruits of that labor, the busy May-June calendar indicates that for Netflix and its subscribers, the future is now. -VIA