It’s no secret that Stranger Things is Netflix’s biggest money-maker, and this past week the show joined the ever-growing list of programs being disrupted due to the ongoing WGA strike.
While the fifth and final season of Stranger Things was set to begin shooting this June, series creators Matt and Ross Duffer took to Twitter on May 6 to voice their support for the strike, confirming that production on the Netflix series would not move forward until the strike is over and a fair deal is reached.
As Netflix struggles to maintain subscribers while they crack down on password sharing and compete against a hoard of other streaming services, can they really afford to lose the show that is arguably their biggest draw?
What Does Netflix Have to Do With the Writer’s Strike?
First off, Netflix isn’t about to lose all of its subscribers if Stranger Things is delayed. The CEO of this streaming phenom will not lose it all because of this strike, and that’s kind of the point. The powers that be in entertainment have often been able to squeeze every ounce out of their writers without paying them fairly, and unfortunately, the rich guys get richer while many members of the WGA have been struggling to make ends meet.
As the way we consume media evolves, so does the structure of the shows we watch. For example, shorter seasons and smaller writers’ rooms mean diminished job security for writers. While not unique to Netflix, both of these things have been greatly exacerbated by Netflix’s streaming model, and consequently, a lot of the frustration of the WGA is being directed at the streaming giant for perpetuating the harmful practices.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is the official bargaining representative for the entertainment industry, and the group responsible for denying the WGA’s demands. Netflix joined the AMPTP in 2019, so they now have a seat at the table regarding the kinds of negotiations that the strike revolves around.
The last time there was a writer’s strike in 2007, the streaming landscape looked very different (a.k.a basically didn’t exist), so we don’t really have a precedent for how the streamers will fare in the face of a potentially months-long strike. However, an unexpected Stranger Things hiatus means that Netflix stands to lose a lot of money and a lot of time. The pausing of this mega production might be the action the strike needs to evoke some real change because as we all know, money talks.
‘Stranger Things’ Is Netflix’s Most Lucrative Series
An overwhelming success for the streaming service, Stranger Things is Netflix’s spooky, nostalgic, and incredibly lucrative baby. Since its premiere in 2016, its accumulated 1.26 billion hours on Netflix’s Most Popular List, and Stranger Things 4 is the most-watched English-language program on the platform. As reported by Variety, a survey done in 2019 by Wall Street firm Cowen & Co. found that while 51% of all Netflix subscribers planned on watching Stranger Things 3, 5% of non-subscribers said they planned on subscribing just to watch it, and 13% of former subscribers planned to re-subscribe in order to do so.
This means that most people who watch Netflix watch Stranger Things, and a fair amount of people would subscribe to the service just to watch the show. Now, Netflix has a great roster of content already, and Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos has confirmed that the platform has enough unreleased content to get them through to the end of this year. However, Stranger Things is a cash cow that Netflix can consistently count on to bring in viewers and keep them watching.
In the Streaming World, Netflix Has More Competition Than Ever
While Netflix may be the most popular streaming service, it’s certainly not the only one. Prime Video, for example, is neck and neck with Netflix in terms of subscribers, and viewers now have more options than ever when it comes to streaming content from the comfort of their own homes. Over the past few years Netflix has also been canceling shows left and right, and often ones that fans have loudly lobbied for renewal. At a time when endless entertainment is at our fingertips, if people don’t find what they want on one service, they’ll go elsewhere and probably find what they’re looking for.
Last year, Netflix had major layoffs to try and compensate for a drop in subscribers and a resulting revenue hit. Like any streaming service, Netflix makes its money from its subscriptions. The more people that subscribe to their services, the more money they get — hence the platform’s panic surrounding password sharing. Netflix also cut subscription prices in more than 30 countries earlier this year in an attempt to attract more subscribers.
This is why Stranger Things is so important to Netflix’s overall success because when you’re spending $30 million dollars an episode to make a TV show, you need to be bringing in some serious cash flow to compensate. Fewer subscribers doesn’t just mean fewer people watching Stranger Things, it means fewer people watching anything else on Netflix.
Delayed Production on ‘Stranger Things’ Means Messy Production Schedules
Another concern surrounding the delayed production is that the (formerly) child actors of Stranger Things aren’t getting any younger. Is this a huge deal? No, however, nobody likes a twenty-year-old playing a fifteen-year-old, and the age gaps only widen the longer production is delayed. The Duffers have alluded to a potential time jump that might take place between Seasons 4 and 5, so this might be a non-issue. However, real-life teen Noah Schnapp, who plays Will Byers, is attending college and was supposed to begin shooting for Season 5 in May, which would mean that filming wouldn’t overlap with his schooling. This strike inevitably messes with this plan, and we can see how delaying filming has the potential for many disruptive domino effects.
Netflix Needs a New Season of ‘Stranger Things’ Sooner Rather Than Later
The bottom line is that while Netflix was once the all-mighty tycoon of the streaming world, it now has more competition than ever, and it needs to be smart about how it keeps its employees happy. While Netflix may be prepared to churn out content for the foreseeable future, they won’t be able to deliver their most coveted program until the WGA gets a fair deal. Halting production on Stranger Things means that this media giant is losing out on what is arguably its most valuable asset.
The longer the writers of the WGA have to wait in order to be compensated fairly for their work, the longer we have to wait for a new season of Stranger Things. We’re all on the edge of our seats as we wait to see if our favorite characters die, if Vecna will be vanquished once and for all, and if Hawkins is going to be completely swallowed up by the unrelenting wasteland that is The Upside Down.
But as time goes on, are audiences still going to care? In the age of instant gratification, people won’t hesitate to go elsewhere for content if they’re not getting what they’re looking for. Stranger Things production being on hiatus, until the strike ends, might finally create the impact that the strike has been trying to make. The message to Netflix is loud and clear: if the writers aren’t getting what they deserve, we aren’t getting invited back to Hawkins.