Netflix’s Mistaken Paradox

The Cloverfield Paradox has drawn criticism for distracting from Netflix’s own, better rated property Altered Carbon. Andrew Carroll examines the publicity anomaly that lead to Netflix harming its own show

Netflix’s release strategies are often airtight. More airtight, in fact, than the stranded space station in its latest sci-fi flop The Cloverfield Paradox. Netflix’s purchase and release of The Cloverfield Paradox initially seemed like part of a late-winter strategy designed to shake up the dump of generally poor quality February releases. The streaming giant has bought films destined for critical failure from studios and distributors before. This is however the first time a purchase has destroyed the hype for a Netflix Original property.

Altered Carbon would have been a major original release for Netflix. It’s production levels alone boast Game of Thrones style figures. Set on Earth 300 hundred years in the future, Altered Carbon finds a long-dead terrorist, Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), reborn into a world where the sum total of a person’s identity is stored in a disc implanted in the person’s brain stem. People, especially the rich, can swap in and out of bodies or “sleeves” at will making death meaningless. The effect of The Cloverfield Paradox’s surprise release straight after Super Bowl LII on Altered Carbon is far from meaningless however.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Cloverfield Paradox. The film has received criticism for its poor characters and plot as well as drawing attention away from Netflix’s other big sci-fi release Altered Carbon.

Despite Netflix’s generally tight-lipped approach to cost, profit and viewership the estimated figures by outside sources suggest Altered Carbon cost up to $7 million per episode. If the figures hold true that’s $70 million for the entire ten-episode series; a staggering amount for a TV series especially one released on a streaming service. The Cloverfield Paradox meanwhile had a budget of $45 million and Netflix likely bought it from Paramount for far less than its original production cost.

The question remains as to why a studio known for cinema releases would sell a film to Netflix? The answer is relatively simple. The Netflix model allows for easy dumps for less reputable series and films especially in the vein of foreign language releases, horror and science-fiction. The abysmally reviewed TV series The Mist, adapted from a Stephen King story, is a good example of one of these throwaway shows. These dumps are great for those looking to binge watch something to pass the time and it’s rare such releases can have a negative effect on Netflix’s own releases especially that of the high budgeted and highly acclaimed Altered Carbon.

The Cloverfield Paradox’s may not damage Altered Carbon’s future but it did kill the hype for it. Netflix’s millions of subscribers cannot be expected to binge watch Altered Carbon even over a weekend period especially one that includes the Super Bowl. The Cloverfield Paradox managed to summarily destroy all of the enthusiasm generated for the recently released series while simultaneously disappointing audience’s with its messy narrative, one-note characters and poor writing. Timing is something that Netflix seems to have mastered with seasonal release windows and well orchestrated marketing campaigns geared to promoting shows that are both high profile such as House of Cards and smaller more genre specific shows like last year’s Dark. With that considered Netflix’s derailment of Altered Carbon seems all the more bizarre.

The Cloverfield Paradox did not have to arrive at the cost of Altered Carbon. It would have still benefited from a smaller release on Netflix as most audiences would probably prefer watching a bad sci-fi film in the comfort of their own home rather than going to the effort of getting dressed and heading to the cinema. What Paramount and Bad Robot J. J. Abrams’ production studio have done is turn a loss into a profit which although not a bad thing has, in this instance, given a series with great potential almost no time to breathe.

“The Cloverfield Paradox did not have to arrive at the cost of Altered Carbon”

TV and film benefit from dissection. The act of picking apart a show, film, book or painting is half the fun of appreciating art or media. These so-called water cooler conversations benefit from the diversity of the mediums discussed. Altered Carbon is a dystopian series a la Blade Runner and The Cloverfield Paradox is a hard sci-fi film more in line with Sunshine. Despite being sci-fi both are different enough to give birth to multiple topics of conversation ranging from “I loved the identity politics of Altered Carbon” to “The Cloverfield Paradox was terrible, but at least it was entertainingly terrible”. Netflix’s disruptive and terribly timed release of The Cloverfield Paradox stifles these conversations and restricts them to the latter of the above topics.

This anomaly in the release strategy is at best a rare mistake and at worst a desperate PR stunt gone bad. The ability to watch an entire season of a series in one go appeals to almost everyone. Unfortunately it also points to a slippery slope of quantity over quality. Every stream generates money for Netflix as it does for other streaming services such as Hulu and Spotify. The more shows and films Netflix has on its service the more money it can make from them. If Netflix chose to focus on quality over quantity that would be a significant loss hence why there are countless bad films on the service rather than a handful of good ones.

The Netflix model works in terms of the business of streaming. Where it fails is in providing discerning viewers a wide variety of quality films and TV series to watch. Instead it scatters a handful of great films and shows in amongst piles of other films and shows that range from average to awful. It’s not too late for Netflix to learn from this mistake but that all depends on whether the service saw it as a mistake in the first place. When something bad comes along at the cost of something great that’s a problem but what comes next is the issue of whether Netflix learn from this or whether they regard it as a misstep worth the occasional bump in publicity.

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