Going into Sunday, May 26, the release date for season 4 of “Arrested Development,” the buzz was ginormous. Titanic, even.
But like the Titanic, early reports have the maiden voyage of the Netflix-produced show a disaster. Reviews for the quirky sitcom about a family of bastards trying to stay afloat have been mixed, and as a result, Netflix’s stock price has been down. And yet, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix wants more.
According to Hastings, “Arrested Development” is a unique show in that its talent determines whether the series will continue. But Hastings has affirmed that Netflix is amenable to the idea, and that, with the cast on board, future seasons are likely. But what is said in public and what is said in boardrooms tend to differ completely.
“We had very high expectation from the beginning for ‘Arrested Development’ because it had a well-known brand, and we were thrilled with the response and it’s been huge, just as we hoped,” Hastings said via the Chicago Tribune. Of course this is expected CEO chatter — the sort of stuff that comes out when you pull a string in his back. The reality is that nobody knows anything yet.
The only comparable business model for this style of original programming seems to be the HBO/ShowTime/Starz formula, which utilizes the same Netflix-style of ad-free content. While Hulu follows the same business model, it is currently involved in negotiations for purchase and only its sales price will reflect its valuation for the near future. Like HBO & friends though, Netflix is hoping that the lure of quality shows will bring in the subscribers who will then stay for the more supplemental content. Producing highly visible shows comes with an enormous price tag, and the margins are so far only quantifiable by the number of new subscribers added — a process that is ambiguous at best. Netflix can’t continue in this vein of supplying new shows without seeing a steady uptick in subscribers — and as far as “Arrested Development” is concerned, so far that does not seem to be occurring.
Fortunately for media analysts, but unfortunately for Netflix, we might soon get a realistic answer on whether this process is going to work. AOL and Amazon are both adding original content to their slates for fall, and pretty soon we shall know the winners (if there are any) by identifying the dead bodies and seeing who is left.