We’ve all been there. We’re scrolling through Netflix, just looking for something to pop on at the end of a long day and you just. Keep. Scrolling. You’re not feeling that picky. Just something interesting and entertaining to hold your attention. But nothing is grabbing you. Eventually you might log off and — like a growing number of Americans — you might be logging off for good.
It’s not just you. A deeply reported piece in The Hollywood Reporter reveals the internal power struggles and conflicts that are at least partly to blame for the streaming giants falling fortunes. Several top Netflix creators told THR‘s Kim Masters that Netflix’s troubles can be traced back to the “fall” of Cindy Holland, the mastermind behind Netflix’s early original successes like The Crown, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things.
In the early days of Netflix’s streaming success, the company built a reputation as a respecter of creative autonomy, luring red hot talent away from more traditional studios with the promise of more creative freedom to bring their passion projects to life. “That service was built on the back of Cindy Holland’s taste,” one anonymous source told Masters. “I could give you a list of names of people who would lie down on railroad tracks for her.”
In more recent years, according to the piece, Holland’s style of supporting creative talent has fallen by the wayside. Instead, chief content officer Ted Sarandos has been calling the shots, and he prefers casting a wider, cheaper net by dialing up the number of shows and dialing down the curation. One source called it the “Wal-martization” of Netflix: quantity over quality.
Sources say Netflix also started playing different acquisition teams off of each other. A show pitch that might get rejected by one team could get picked up by another. Former CBS and Universal Television executive Bela Bajaria arrived at Netflix in 2016, and greenlit a few shows that Holland had passed on. Some of them, like You, turned out to be hits. But internally, many feared the growing amount of shows was unsustainable and led to a “cannibalization” of their own content.
Holland’s last project for Netflix was The Queen’s Gambit, an expensive period piece that some Netflix sources told THR was internally considered a bad gamble. It turned into a pandemic mega-hit, but too late to save Holland’s job. Bajaria was elevated to global head of TV in the summer of 2020. Holland ended up at livestreaming tech company Genvid.
The whole piece is an interesting look at a one-time disruptor now struggling with its own growth. So next time you catch yourself struggling to find something to watch on Netflix, you know at least a little bit of the reason why.