“Stranger Things” Season 4, Volume 1 has already smashed multiple Netflix viewership records less than two weeks after its release, and anticipation for Volume 2’s July 1 launch is building more by the day. But the immense success of the streamer’s first-ever season to feature a two-batch drop with just over a month in between releases does not mean Netflix is considering shaking up the “Stranger Things” model further. Ahead of its fifth and final season, there are currently no plans to shift the Duffer Brothers series to a weekly release.
“For the fans of ‘Stranger Things,’ this is how they’ve been watching that show, and I think to change that on them would be disappointing,” Peter Friedlander, Netflix’s head of scripted series for U.S. and Canada, said during a panel moderated by Variety’s TV editor Michael Schneider at Tuesday’s HRTS Presidents Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. “To not give them exactly what they’ve been expecting — which is ‘Stranger Things’ is a seasonal experience, they go through that with them — I think that it would be an abrupt change for the member.”
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Per Friedlander, the binge model is still the likely path for all scripted series at Netflix.
“We fundamentally believe that we want to give our members the choice in how they view,” the Netflix exec said. “And so giving them that option on these scripted series to watch as much as they want to watch when they watch it, is still fundamental to what we want to provide. And so when you see something like a batched season with ‘Stranger Things,’ this is our attempt at making sure we can get shows out quicker to the members.”
Friedlander says this choice is “really about servicing” Netflix’s subscribers “in more expedient ways.” “That’s what you see [with ‘Stranger Things’] and that’s what you see with ‘Ozark.’ So we have had some experimentation in that space. But it’s also, you’re giving multiple-episodic-viewing experiences, it isn’t a standalone. So it really does, what we think, honors our relationship with our members and what their expectations are. There have been other types of launch cadences, but that’s connected to an unscripted approach or a competition approach.”
“Stranger Things” creators Matt and Ross Duffer, professionally known as the Duffer Brothers, previously told Variety they already have an idea for a spinoff series to pursue once the fifth and final season has aired, but have not yet shared the concept with Netflix execs. Friedlander confirmed this Tuesday, adding that “Stranger Things” conversations are “highly confidential until we’re able to to share,” and “you will you will hear very loudly when it when we have stuff to announce.”
Looking at Netflix as whole, which lost 200,000 subscribers in Q1 and projects it will lose another 2 million Q2, Friedlander clarified the company’s current outlook on content spend. Following the subscriber loss in April, co-CEO Ted Sarandos stood behind Netflix’s previously stated $18 billion projected content spend for the year, while CFO Spencer Neumann cautioned execs would be “smart and prudent in terms of pulling back on some of that spend growth to reflect the realities of the revenue growth of the business.” (Netflix has been known for paying exorbitant amounts for many productions, and reportedly spent $30 million per episode of “Stranger Things 4.”)
“We aren’t trying to cut budgets. What we’re trying to do is appropriately budget shows across the spectrum of budgets,” Friedlander told Schneider Tuesday. “So it isn’t about how can we make something that should be X and put it in a smaller box. We don’t believe that that’s going to lead to great storytelling. What we want to do is be really great partners to the producers and figure out what the best way is to tell this creative vision that we want to back. And so it isn’t about how do we cut… I want to be very clear, we want to be responsible and we want to be responsible across the budget spectrum. You don’t want to have mid-range budgets that are irresponsibly too low, too. And that is a problem sometimes when you under-budget something. So it’s about actually being good producers and being good stewards to a production.”
Friedlander also said part of Neflix’s current strategy is “tending to the U.S. audience in a way that we hadn’t necessarily before” and “making sure that we don’t overlook the U.S. as a marketplace,” while producing global hits like “Squid Game,” “Lupin” and “Money Heist.”
Along with the Friedlander sit-down, the in-person HRTS event included Schneider’s fireside chats with prolific producer John Wells and “Power” franchise mastermind Courtney A. Kemp.
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