How Netflix finally woke up to the true cost of preachy TV: As a huge financial hit forces the streaming giant to can Meghan’s ultra-worthy vanity project, one writer argues it’s a victim of its own planning
- Netflix have dropped Meghan Markle’s animated TV show for children this week
- The streaming giant has been forced to cut costs massively as subscription fell
- Two million people are predicted to cancel their subscriptions before July
It was part of a multimillion-dollar Netflix deal announced in September 2020, which was central to Harry and Meghan’s plans for financial independence and was to catapult them into the league of icons such as the Obamas, confirming their arrival among California’s movers and shakers.
The Pearl was Meghan’s baby. Young viewers of the animated series would follow the adventures of a 12-year-old girl as she headed back in time to meet influential women from history. It would be educational, inspiring and . . . boring.
It is only a year and a half since the agreement with Harry and Meghan, but Netflix bosses have realised there isn’t a huge demand for woke cartoons. Parents park their children in front of a screen for half an hour’s peace. Shows that fail to hold their interest are no use to anyone.
Preachy Netflix shows like He’s Expecting (pictured), where a man becomes pregnant, are a contributing reason for the streaming platform’s recent decline in its number of subscribers argues Joanna Willams
Netflix lost 200,000 in the first three months of this year and two million more a predicted to leave by the end of the year, leaving the company scrambling to be more appealing to a wider audience
The out-of-touch Duke and Duchess promised to provide Netflix with ‘impactful content that unlocks action’. I have no idea what that means, but I know it’s not what I want to watch when I curl up with a glass of wine after a hard day.
Netflix is simply being realistic — it can’t afford to lose more viewers. It was recently announced that the number of subscribers to the streaming service fell by 200,000 in the first three months of this year alone.
A further two million people are predicted to cancel their subscriptions before July, and around £40 million has been wiped off the company’s market value.
The squeeze on household budgets, and people no longer wanting to stay at home binge-watching TV now life is returning to pre-pandemic normality, have both been blamed for Netflix’s decline.
But there is another explanation worth considering. Perhaps Netflix simply doesn’t give viewers enough of what they want to see. Perhaps we have all tired of the kind of stuff it has been commissioning — such as woke cartoon characters preaching about female empowerment.
Recent additions to the platform include My Little Pony: A New Generation, criticised for using animated ponies to teach young viewers about prejudice and fascism, and He’s Expecting, a Japanese series about a man who gets pregnant. Not to mention Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘sex-positive’ series Sex, Love & Goop.
The animated series for youngsters My Little Pony: A New Generation, featured topics such as prejudice and fascism
Elon Musk, fresh from buying Twitter, recently joined a conversation on Netflix’s subscriber loss. He agreed with a Twitter user who claimed the platform had become ‘unwatchable’ because of ‘the woke mind virus’.
The truth is finally dawning on Netflix’s chief executives: get woke, go broke.
What’s surprising is that it took the company so long to realise it. The lessons were already there to be learnt.
Take the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, for example. Despite a star-studded all-female cast, it flopped at the Box Office. Sony Pictures reportedly lost up to £40 million. It turns out people didn’t want a dollop of feminism along with their ghostbusting.
Director Paul Feig blamed the film’s failure on the viewers. It became ‘intertwined with Hillary Clinton and the anti-Hillary movement’, he complained. In other words, if you didn’t appreciate his woke Ghostbusters, it was your fault for being a misogynist.
Two years later and Ocean’s Eight proved yet again that feminist gender-swap spin-offs were not what people wanted to see. The film — based on the original Ocean’s Eleven but with a female criminal gang — sold fewer tickets on an opening weekend than all the other Ocean’s movies.
The film’s stars, including Mindy Kaling and Cate Blanchett, explained that it didn’t flop because it was a lazy copy of an old hit, but because male critics failed to appreciate its empowering feminist message. Cinemagoers, it turned out, were with the critics.
Viewers have even stopped watching the Oscars since the ceremony went woke. As recently as 2014, more than 40 million Americans tuned in. By 2022, this had plummeted to 15.4 million — the second-lowest viewing figure in the show’s history.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘sex-positive’ series Sex, Love & Goop (pictured), aimed to help couples learn methods to enhance their relationships through more pleasurable sex
Again, it’s not hard to see why. In 2016, Lady Gaga treated the Academy Awards audience to a song about campus rape culture. The same year, Leonardo DiCaprio used his acceptance speech to deliver a sermon on the importance of saving the planet.
The Oscars moralising has continued unabated. In 2021, Travon Free accepted an award as co-director for Best Live Action Short and took the opportunity to speak out about police violence towards black people.
Viewers, meanwhile, have hit the off button in droves. It turns out they don’t particularly enjoy listening to ultra-rich celebrities pushing woke views in the guise of entertainment.
Deaf to this, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have well and truly nailed their colours to the woke mast. Last year’s Time magazine profile of the formerly royal duo reminded readers that Meghan ‘has long been an active humanitarian and a powerful advocate for women and girls’.
The couple, we were told, ‘turn compassion into boots on the ground’. They ‘give voice to the voiceless’, ‘mental-health support to black women and girls’ and feed ‘those affected by natural disasters’. Truly, they sound more like saints than mere mortals. But the views of woke saints don’t sell in the entertainment world. Or in other commercial sectors, come to think of it.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s first Netflix project will be a docuseries about the Invictus Games which took place this April (pictured at the Invictus Games
In January this year, Unilever announced 1,500 job cuts. The company, which traces its roots back to the Victorian soap-making Lever brothers, owns all manner of kitchen and bathroom cupboard staples, from Knorr stock cubes, Lipton tea and Hellmann’s mayonnaise to Dove soap and Lynx deodorant.
Perhaps it’s coincidental, but the job cuts followed the company’s transition to a woke agenda in which it laughably claimed to be ‘re-inventing food for humanity’ and urged its customers to embrace a ‘plant-forward diet’.
One of its most prominent shareholders, Terry Smith, launched a withering attack on the company’s virtue-signalling, accusing Unilever of ‘losing the plot’ with its adolescent posturing when it should have been ‘focusing on the fundamentals of business’.
The emergence of what has been called ‘woke capitalism’ can be seen everywhere, whether it is chocolate giant Mars declaring that its green female M&M character is to be made ‘less sexy’ to reflect a ‘more dynamic, progressive’ world, or HSBC bank campaigning for ‘opportunity’ and open borders. Customers of both companies are fed up with such moralising nonsense, which is so often hypocritical.
Mars, for example, which prides itself on its ‘confident and empowered’ characters, is currently co-defending a lawsuit in the U.S. over allegations that it uses African children as slave labour in cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. HSBC does business in totalitarian China and last year closed 82 branches in Britain, at great cost to local communities.
Woke-thinking has taken over publishing, universities, the Civil Service and much of the business world and media.
Netflix may be backtracking now, but it wasn’t that long ago that its executives saw fit to sign Harry and Meghan to a mega-contract. It’s hard not to laugh at the sudden about-turn.
Woke hasn’t gone away but the tide may be starting to turn. The good news is that when people vote with their wallets, companies that have a duty to their shareholders are forced to sit up and take notice. And if Meghan is the loser this time — well, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
Joanna Williams’s book How Woke Won (Spiked) will be serialised this month in The Mail on Sunday and is published on May 19.