The future keeps happening. Facebook just passed IBM in market cap and now Netflix has passed HBO in subscriber revenue, hitting a giddy $1.146 billion last quarter.
Netflix began streaming video content just seven years ago. HBO started its cable television operations back in early ’70s, more than 40 years ago. Even though HBO has benefited from many massive blockbuster franchises like Game of Thrones and True Blood in recent years, there is now a clear sense that the upstart Netflix is pulling ahead in original content creation, both in quality and volume. House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black have generated nearly as much media buzz as Game of Thrones and Netflix is now about to soar to new levels of eccentric, yet lavishly budgeted programming.
There are no fewer than five limited series linked to Marvel’s Daredevil franchise slated for Netflix in 2015. The Marco Polo miniseries will be shot in Italy, Malaysia and Kazakhstan. Chelsea Handler’s once-so-hot late night talk show will make a surprise switch to Netflix. BoJack Horseman is an adult animation featuring Will Arnett as a former sitcom star dealing with alcoholism and self-loathing.
Wait, there’s still much more: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are teaming up in a sitcom. The Wachowski siblings are producing a science fiction show spanning continents. A new family drama features ’80s Oscar contenders Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard and Kyle Chandler. It now looks like a new season of Arrested Development is also in the cards. All together it looks like the only thing missing is Jessica Lange.
Redemption is the thread that runs through nearly all these shows. Handler lost her sizzle a few years ago, Daredevil was tarnished by a lackluster movie adaptation, Will Arnett peaked a while back, the Wachowskis are recovering from a couple of high-profile flops, while Fonda and many other new Netflix stars thrived in the years between 1970 and 1985.
It seems that Netflix is fixing its gimlet eye on attracting older viewers — a Sam Shepard drama, a Fonda/Tomlin comedy and a Marco Polo series are clearly geared at appealing to the 40-plus age bracket. Even the Wachowski project seems a tad middle-aged since “The Matrix” is now 15 years old and had its biggest impact on people now flirting with forties.
HBO is no doubt feeling a bit under pressure. True Blood is stumbling through its final season and Boardwalk Empire is also drawing to a close. Game of Thrones is now entering the stagnant stretch of the novel series where hundreds of pages are spent on Daenerys wringing her hands in Meereen and Brienne inspecting grimly an endless succession of war-torn hamlets. It will be interesting to see if Netflix challenge spurs HBO into a period of more aggressive and ambitious generation of original content.