But Netflix’s strategy — offering a trove of diverse content without much editorial supervision — has made the company a huge success. Intervening in Chappelle’s special isn’t so simple.
But if Netflix shies away from content like Chappelle’s, it would be going back on the artistic freedom that has attracted star talent to its platform for years. That star talent is a big reason why Netflix is on top of the streaming marketplace.
How Netflix navigates this tightrope will determine the evolution of the company. So far, it has not handled this controversy well.
Netflix vs. the competition
In the past, some of Netflix’s biggest rivals in media have handled controversy around its stars by taking definitive action.
Would Netflix have pulled “Roseanne” off the air? It’s unclear. Yet, the Chappelle controversy shows that the company’s strategy of offering everything for everyone on a global scale does have its downsides.
But Netflix’s strategy is unlikely to change, according to Zak Shaikh, vice president of programming at research-based media firm Magid.
“Netflix’s goal is to be TV, and to be that they have to cover everything, and that’s their strength,” he said. “They have so much content. It’s a volume play to cover all of those bases. But when you do that, when you take risks, you’re going to cause some controversy. It’s impossible not to.”
Shaikh added the key difference with Netflix and competitors like ABC is that Netflix doesn’t sell ads and thus a special like Chappelle’s can’t upset advertisers.
“So the question becomes, is this upsetting subscribers?” he said. “If it’s not, they’re unlikely to change course.”
CEO ‘screwed up’ but doubles down
Ted Sarandos, the company’s co-CEO and chief content officer, acknowledged he could have done better in terms of the Chappelle controversy.
“We have articulated to our employees that there are going to be things you don’t like,” Mr. Sarandos told the Journal. “There are going to be things that you might feel are harmful. But we are trying to entertain a world with varying tastes and varying sensibilities and various beliefs, and I think this special was consistent with that.”
How the Chappelle Netflix controversy ends and what changes come of it — if any — is still yet unknown. But if Netflix wants to continue to operate as a company that supports a strategy of diverse content and creative freedom at the same time then it needs to figure out how to better respond to a backlash like this one.
Because with its an ever-expanding library of content, this controversy is unlikely to be its last.