As Netflix prepares to start showing ads for the first time, legacy media organizations used their advances to brag.
Last year, TV execs and advertisers spent upfront bills quietly worrying that Netflix was ruining their business. This year, they shared the proverbial last laugh.
The benefits of this week came as Netflix laid off about 150 of its 11,000 employees on Tuesday amid slowing revenue growth and after a first-quarter earnings call that saw it miss analysts’ forecasts by $60 million and post a net loss of 200,000 subscribers .
Wacka-wacka! Not exactly the stuff of high comedy, but the relief of seeing the invincible Netflix looking very defeatable actually became a pressure valve for comedians and executives alike to use the upfronts as an opportunity to vent their spleen.
“Every year I say fuck Netflix, and this year it’s come true,” Jimmy Kimmel joked via Zoom during the Disney upfront. “Netflix has lost subscribers for the first time ever. Things are really tough over there, they had layoffs today, I heard they might not even be able to bring Emily back from Paris.
“Now they’re coming for our money, our advertising money, which is actually your money, but you know what I mean,” he continued. “It sucks, although I have to admit, after years of choking the life out of us from these smug bastards, it feels really good to see them deign to sell ads. I’ll call you bastards, take you for drinks, kiss you in the ass. Oh, everyone loves Bridgerton, right? How much do you think they’re going to love it when it’s interrupted by a Nurtec commercial every four minutes, you billion dollar cocks.”
The bad news is expected to continue this quarter as the company expects to lose 2 million subscribers between April and June and accelerates its timeline to roll out a cheaper, ad-supported subscription tier.
Top TV executives have also taken their shots, even if they wouldn’t mention Netflix by name. “This is truly the biggest game changer in our entire industry,” said Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s chair of global advertising and partnerships, at Radio City Music Hall Monday morning. “In recent years, along with everything else, you’ve had to rethink all of your advertising. Some of these companies just haven’t been able to keep up with your needs. Indeed, with these companies, advertising may seem like an afterthought. Or worse, just a new idea to create a new revenue stream. But not here – at NBCUniversal, ad sales have always been an asset to our business.”
Comcast announced in April that Peacock has 28 million monthly active accounts and 13 million paying subscribers. Netflix has 220 million. Yaccarino still has a lot of streaming ground to cover, but she also has access to all of the NBCUniversal linear platforms and existing, operational AVOD tiers on Peacock.
The company Kimmel is representing, Disney, poses the clearest streaming threat to Netflix. As of April, Disney+ had about 138 million subscribers, with a stated goal of 230 million to 260 million by the end of 2024. A cheaper, ad-supported option later launched this year could help make that happen. Disney also has Hulu, which it should fully own by then.
Even Fox, whose free ad-supported streamer Tubi recently reported having 51 million monthly active users, got in on the action.
“Now comes Netflix and Disney,” Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said during a pre-taped presentation Monday afternoon. “That means they can’t afford to build their paywall without your money.”
Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks offered a final swipe. “We know that without you, we would just be Netflix,” he said.
Ouch. Of course, a year from now, the media buyers who advertise on Fox will also be buying time on ad-supported Netflix. But for now… oh what a difference a quarter makes.