Netflix is planning to add live streaming to its service, according to multiple reports. The streaming platform, which recently experienced significant subscriber losses for the first time in a decade, has confirmed to The Verge that it’s in the early stages of developing live content such as stand-up specials, unscripted shows and other one-off events.
Although a swerve into live broadcasts may seem a bit left-field for the overlord of streaming and watch-at-your-convenience-shows, it's a move that could play well to some of Netflix's core assets: comedy specials and reality TV.
Netflix has long been committed to producing stand-up comedy and this month held its inaugural 'Netflix is a Joke' comedy festival. The in-person event was held in LA and featured over 130 comedians, including John Mulaney, Ken Jeong, Amy Poehler, Billy Eichner, Conan O'Brien and Chris Rock. Many of the shows were filmed and are set to be aired in the coming weeks. However, if the festival returns next year, Netflix could potentially allow viewers to tune in and experience the shows live.
There's also scope for the service to take advantage of the popularity of volatile reunion specials for some of its more compelling unscripted content, such as Selling Sunset and Love Is Blind. Live streaming would also enable Netflix to expand into live viewer-voted talent shows, competing with Disney Plus, which recently added Dancing With The Stars to its slate as its first-ever live show.
If it can create the infrastructure to successfully deliver popular live-streamed content, it raises the obvious question of whether Netflix may be planning on adding live sport to its roster. The service has previously shunned the suggestion citing the vast costs and complicated regional fragmentation involved in acquiring broadcast rights, and last July, co-CEO Ted Sarandos explained in a call to analysts that: “Our fundamental product is on-demand and advertising-free, and sports tends to be live and packed with advertising.’’ As Netflix's long-held stance on adverts is starting to shift, could sports be next?
Until now, Netflix's sports content has stuck to prestige profiles of athletes and fly on the wall shows such as The Last Dance and Naomi Osaka. However, the success that these documentaries have had in luring in new fans often directly benefits Netflix's streaming rivals, which are already involved in live sports. Disney Plus owns major US sports broadcaster ESPN, and Amazon Prime Video offers increasing match coverage, including Premier League Football and ATP (Tennis), as well as the option to add sports-focused channels to your subscription.
One of Netflix's biggest sports series has been Drive To Survive, an original docu-series following Formula 1 teams, that was intentionally developed to help boost the sport's global appeal and has been a huge hit, with viewing figures for Grand Prix fixtures increasing in the US by around 40 per cent. ESPN has been the beneficiary of this as it holds the US broadcast rights for F1 until the end of 2022, but last autumn, Netflix CEO Reed Hasting's told Der Spiegel that the streaming service “would definitely consider” bidding on the rights to show Formula 1 races in the future.