After passing 100 million subscribers, overtaking cable TV in customer numbers in the US and expanding to over 190 countries, Netflix is starting to cement something else: sustained prestige.
A record haul of 91 Emmy nominations puts Netflix — which had 54 nominations last year — just behind perennial frontrunner HBO with 110, thanks to hits like Master of None and Stranger Things. In May, the company screened movies including Bong Joon-ho’s Okja at the Cannes Film Festival. It was the first time streaming services have been recognized at the iconic event (though not without controversy).
A key component of this upgrade in status is the sheer number of original offerings Netflix has put out. If you throw everything at an awards committee, quite a few of them might stick.
The company says it will release 1,000 hours of original content this year, up from 600 hours in 2016 and 450 in 2015. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos has said Netflix spends over $6 billion a year on its own shows, in comparison to Amazon’s reported spend of nearly $3 billion, with HBO at $2 billion. Even without counting the hefty volume of stand-up comedy specials and kids’ programming, ten-year-old Netflix is debuting original TV shows at a far faster rate than its closest competitors.
Ever since Netflix went head-to-head with HBO with House of Cards in 2013, those originals have included highbrow prestige drama ripe for awards. Yet its programming today covers a swath of niches, from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to choose-your-own-adventure stories like Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale for children, and non-English language shows like Japanese Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories and Mexican Spanish soccer drama Club de Cuervos. “We aren’t in the business of creating ‘one size fits all’ programming,” Sarandos said in a statement earlier this year.
This strategy works for a company that chases subscribers rather than viewers. Serving every area of interest, ensuring there’s content for everybody even if they only see a fraction of the extensive back catalog, is how Netflix grows its base. Owning the content also allows Netflix to circumvent tricky regional licensing issues, fueling its global expansion. The company has said that it wants to own half of all its programming. Last year, it owned more than a third of it.
Netflix’s prolific output shows in its Emmys nominations, too. It spread its recognition across 26 shows, from Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th to the now (almost) canceled Sense8. HBO received 19 more nominations but across four less shows. Distant runners-up NBC and FX had nominations in 17 and 9 shows, respectively.
Netflix vs. HBO at the Emmys
Other streaming services are gaining stature too. Hulu picked up 18 nominations, up from two last year, including a first series nomination for dystopian A Handmaid’s Tale. Together with Netflix’s House of Cards, Stranger Things and The Crown, the majority of nominees in the competitive Outstanding Drama category were from streaming services. Amazon picked up 16 nominations, the same as last year, having already made its mark in highbrow TV with Transparent.
Of course, while Netflix is busy disrupting traditional TV, it may need to look over its shoulder in the near future: Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter are all trying to enter the market too, whether through live-streaming sports events or original programming.
To keep ahead of the pack, Netflix will want to see its ballooning nominations convert into statues. Probability suggests it should do fine.