Netflix: How did the streaming service turn its fortunes around?

You will probably have noticed how much longer it takes these days to complete your favourite Netflix shows.

You could be watching Ozark or Stranger Things and reach a gripping cliff-hanger, but then have to wait another month or two to see the second half of the series.

It might be annoying, but dicing up the hits is one of several tactics Netflix has been using recently to encourage users to keep their subscriptions active for longer.

And it seems to have worked – on Tuesday, the company unveiled its Q3 results, showing it had added 2.4 million households to its subscriber base, after two consecutive quarters of losses.

Its reversal of fortunes is especially surprising given the cost of living crisis. Cancelling streaming subscriptions is thought to be one of the easiest options people have when cutting household budgets.

But Netflix has been attempting to make the platform more enticing – starting with the way it packages its shows.

“The framework used to be the binge model. The whole USP of Netflix was that an entire series of something would be available in one go, which at the time seemed completely mind-blowing,” says Frances Taylor, who monitors both linear and streaming programming as TV previews editor at the Radio Times.

“You’d have one episode of a similar drama going out per week on the BBC, and then that one episode would go up on iPlayer. Now, obviously, the BBC has adapted and do box-set drops, too, but what is amazing is that streamers like Netflix, who led the way in their models, are now adopting some of the models that linear TV depended on for so long.”

Netflix now splits some of its popular shows, including Ozark, to encourage subscribers to stick around longer
Nearly every streaming service is doing some version of this. Apple’s Ted Lasso, Amazon’s The Boys and Disney’s Pam & Tommy are just a few of the shows which have experimented with more staggered rollouts. Many of them will release the first two or three episodes of a season together, before moving to a weekly model for the rest.

“Dropping one episode a week creates a real buzz, gets viewers excited and leaves them on a cliff-hanger,” says Taylor. “But it’s really canny because it means you can’t sign up for a seven-day free trial, binge the whole thing and then cancel and walk away. You’d have to either wait until it’s finished and try to avoid spoilers, or bite the bullet and sign up to the streaming service for two or three months.”

Other ways Netflix is trying to make it more difficult to leave include using ever-advancing technology to make its ecosystem stickier for subscribers.

This includes the introduction of a designated kids’ zone, which has made Netflix a much more valuable commodity for families.

Elsewhere, improvements are always being made to algorithms, which learn what content viewers like so Netflix can provide tailored recommendations. However, some subscribers think they’ve spotted the company increasingly making efforts to steer them towards its own original content.