By: Gabriel Sandoval
April 9th, 2022
This article is part of our Fall 2022 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.
Netflix, now a technological giant and the most used streaming service in the United States, was once something very different to most Gen Zers. Netflix started out as a DVD subscription service, where the parents of Gen Zers could order a DVD to be delivered in the mail for a family movie night. However, Netflix wouldn’t stay a DVD rental service for long as the company transformed immensely in the 2010s.
Netflix evolved from being a content provider to a content creator as well. Hit series like “Orange is the New Black,” “Bojack Horseman” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” released in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively, helped cement Netflix’s role as an innovative creator of original content. Gen Z loved these original series, and their support helped Netflix’s productions to take off and become known as reputable and entertaining.
Netflix’s original series, alongside all the other content they had available for streaming, was a major contributing factor in the downfall of cable television in the 2010s. Paying less to access content people wanted made a lot more sense than paying high amounts for many channels. Today, Gen Zers—and many of their parents—have generally shifted away from paying for cable in favor of paying for on-demand streaming services to meet their movie and television needs.
However, while Netflix may have once been the leading subscription service in the hearts of many Americans, recent changes with the company have left many Gen Zers feeling upset with the direction Netflix appears to be heading. Several of Netflix’s beloved original series have not been renewed despite overwhelming fan support. The aforementioned “Bojack Horseman” ended after only six seasons despite being a beloved comedy favorite. “Ozark,” “Tuca and Bertie” and “American Vandal” are other examples—among a long list—of shows fans were upset Netflix didn’t renew.
In addition to having their original content die out too soon, Netflix is losing some of their acquired content to other streaming services. With other competitors such as Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount Plus and more, Netflix doesn’t have the near-monopoly on streaming services it did before. Gone are the days of the TV remotes with a Netflix button right in the center—they’ve been replaced with juggling as many streaming services as one can afford.
Netflix’s rising prices have especially caused debate about the affordability of the platform. In April 2022, Netflix raised the price of its standard plan to over $15, a move that sparked discussion about whether or not Netflix and its increasingly lessening content of shows and movies was worth the price. Several of Netflix’s competitors are more affordable for the average debt-ridden Gen Zer and offer student discounts, leading those companies to capitalize on Gen Z’s dismay at Netflix’s price increase. HBO Max even made an announcement they were having a 20% off deal for their subscription prices shortly after Netflix announced their own price increase.
College students are one demographic that especially cares about price when it comes to paying for a streaming service. Amjad Awwad, a 21-year-old student at the University of Michigan recommends Hulu for other students, saying “if you are a college student, the Spotify Premium and Hulu bundle is great.” The bundle costs $5 per month. Additionally, Awwad said that he “like[s] certain shows a lot from Netflix, but Hulu has an overall better section for both TV shows and movies.”
Awwad isn’t the only college student who uses price to help determine entertainment choices. Krishna Gogineni, an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, has similar concerns when it comes to price. Rather than pay for Netflix, he said he “would rather find [his] niche content somewhere else for cheaper.” Gogineni also said that he preferred watching other online content to streaming services in general because it is “free and [more] accessible.”
In addition to cost, many college students feel that Netflix isn’t the streaming service providing the best original content right now. Sierra Romero, a student from Columbia University, says that “Netflix has way too much money which is why they are producing trashy content. If Netflix funded good projects, like how HBO funded ‘Insecure’ or Hulu funded ‘Abbot Elementary’, then I think they would gain my respect.”
Erin Mahan, a student at MSU, also mentions HBO Max when asked about good streaming service original content. “HBO [Max] has a lot more niche things and probably more cutting edge TV and movies,” says Mahan. Awwad says “HBO [Max] has many iconic shows that are amazing,” furthering the HBO Max praise.
Netflix didn’t get completely snubbed by respondents, however. Michelle Raytman, an undergraduate at MSU, preferred Netflix out of the commonly used streaming services, saying “I like movies or shows on Netflix that I can’t get elsewhere,” as well as saying, “Netflix feels casual” and “it’s simple to use.” Awwad also has some praise for Netflix, saying he “like[s] that Netflix releases a season all at once so [he] can binge it.”
Other streaming services might not be Netflix’s only problem when it comes to staying in the competitive race for Gen Z’s entertainment affection. As the 21st century continues on, more forms of entertainment are becoming easily accessible to younger generations and are creating competition that the television industry didn’t have to worry about before. Video games, TikTok and live-streaming and video platforms like Twitch and YouTube are just a few forms of entertainment booming in popularity among Gen Z at the potential detriment of all streaming platforms.
Many Gen Zers prefer free forms of entertainment to paid subscriptions. Romero said, “[I don’t] necessarily prefer YouTube, but I think the fact that content on YouTube has the fastest turnaround and that their algorithm is done really well to keep people on the website—i.e. curating content so you click on another video immediately that matches your interests—is why [I use] it the most.”
Mahan also prefers YouTube to watching streaming services, saying “I like that the content creator can talk specifically to the audience because they are aware of the audience, unlike traditional media.”
While playing video games cancost money, it is rapidly becoming something that many Gen Z members choose to spend time on instead of watching steamable content. Twitch, a live-stream platform where the majority of content creators are video game streamers, has been significant in escalating Gen Z’s interest in gaming. Similarly, YouTube gaming videos, new console releases and spare time during the COVID-19 pandemic have all contributed to gaming becoming more popular in the past couple of years.
With all of these factors affecting Netflix’s economic standing and popularity, it’s important to note that the reason Netflix is still flourishing despite these factors is because of its incredibly large fanbase. It’s available in several countries across the globe, has over 3,000 movies and almost 2,000 television shows available on its platform, and has long been the “OG” of streamable content. Netflix won’t be going away anytime soon.
But the tides are turning on Netflix. Other subscription services are looking like better offers to Gen Z, and free platforms are gaining more and more viewers every day. Netflix’s criticism has been on the rise lately and will remain that way unless Netflix does something to beat out its competition again. Focusing on original content, having enough options on its platform for the subscription price and giving constant attention to Gen Z’s entertainment values are all key for Netflix if it wishes to remain a streaming giant in the years to come.
Gabriel Sandoval is a junior majoring in comparative cultures and politics with an additional major in professional and public writing at Michigan State University. If he’s not working or sleeping, he’s likely watching the first episode of a television series he will never finish.