Last week, a thread popped up on Reddit’s cord-cutting forum asking folks about their favorite streaming services, and the results were not what I expected.

Although Netflix has more paid subscribers than any other streaming service, only nine Redditors picked it as one of their favorites, versus 17 clear endorsements for HBO Max. Netflix couldn’t even establish a clear lead over Apple TV+, which launched less than two years ago and has a tiny catalog by comparison.

The discussion certainly wasn’t statistically representative of anything, but it resonated with me as someone who’s been feeling Netflix fatigue myself. It also dovetails with Netflix’s lackluster second quarter, in which worldwide subscriptions grew by just 1.5 million worldwide and fell by 430,000 in the United States and Canada.

Why is Netflix stumbling? With 209 million subscribers worldwide, it’s partly a matter of saturation, as the company runs out of potential customers in major markets after a year of pandemic-fueled growth. But I also suspect other reasons are at play, ones that don’t show up as easily in quarterly earnings reports.

Competition for content

Let’s start with an obvious point: Netflix alternatives are more abundant than they were a few years ago. While Netflix’s catalog still dwarves most of its competitors’ offerings, the shows people want to see have become well-distributed across a wide range of other services, from HBO Max and Disney+ to Apple TV+ and Peacock.

Take for example the 100 most popular movies and TV shows in the United States right now, as ranked by JustWatch: I count 10 that are available on Netflix, and only five of those are exclusive to the service.

In the cable era, a lot of those non-Netflix shows would have been tied to pay TV bundles, to which Netflix was an additive. Now, the best shows on TV are increasingly not on cable at all, and deciding which services to pay for every month is no longer straightforward. (I suspect this is why we often hear that “Netflix used to have everything,” even though that was never true.)

appletvui Jared Newman / IDG

Services like Apple TV+ are introducing shows that Netflix never had.

With so many other streaming options, Netflix no longer needs to be the staple that you keep year round, especially if it’s not supplying a steady stream of must-see TV. Netflix itself has acknowledged that it’s been lacking big hits lately, telling shareholders that shows like as The Witcher and Sex Education will help give the service a spark later this year.

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