Netflix 2021: Year in Review

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netflix 2021 year in review

As we come to a close on 2021, we’re going to be doing a series of articles reflecting on the year that was. In this first post, we’re going to be looking at the bright spots and negative spots of the year. 

It’s worth noting from the offset that 2021 was very much not a normal year for much of the entertainment industry. COVID-19 is very much still with us and while Netflix isn’t exposed as some other companies are, they certainly were still feeling the brunt of the pandemic on its productions. Just in the last few weeks, a number of Netflix shows were paused again due to outbreaks on set.

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So let’s take a look at some of what I thought were Netflix’s strong points of 2021 and some of their low points too.

The Good: Animation on Netflix

League of Legends Animated Series Arcane Coming to Netflix This Fall

Arcane – Picture: Netflix

Special thumbs up to Netflix’s animation in 2021 which comes in all shapes and sizes.

From varied series such as the slew of titles from Chris Nee (Ridley Jones and Ada Twist, Scientist) to truly innovative shows like City of Ghosts for the kids.

On the adult side, there have been some great titles in the space too most notably the incredibly impressive Arcane, it feels like Netflix is nailing its animated lineup.

That’s not even including Netflix’s growing anime slate which has even been breaking out of the so-called Netflix Jail in recent months.

The movie lineup has been equally impressive in 2021.

Special mentions to Netflix’s 2021 animated movie lineup too headlined notably by three Sony Animation pickups in the form of Wish Dragon, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and Vivo.

Despite the huge investment and dividends in 2021, none of the aforementioned titles have yet to come even close to hitting the same heights that CoComelon continues to. A true phenomenon.

The Good: Licensing Back in Business?

The entertainment industry has shifted over the past decade and Netflix co-CEO has spoken on the record many times about how they saw the sea-change coming which is why they went headfirst into producing its own content.

That has meant TV and movie libraries slowly being reclaimed back and Netflix opting to get out of first-window deals with studios. While we’re not seeing a reversal of this by any stretch, Netflix has made a few moves that is the opposite of where they’ve been headed.

In the United States, Netflix struck two major deals with studios in 2021 both of which are for movies (is this an indictment on Netflix’s own movie output – you decide).

The most fruitful of the two new deals will undoubtedly be Sony’s first window which begins in 2022. They’re also producing exclusive movies for Netflix too.

The TV licensing side in the US is still spotty. ViacomCBS and NBC Universal are still licensing titles to Netflix (ViacomCBS often strategically only licenses a limited number of seasons of a show in the hopes that people jump over to Paramount+ in the long run) but Netflix is mainly reliant on Sony Television Pictures for licensed programming still.

Elsewhere, licensing is mostly still going strong. US sitcoms continue to be commonplace on Netflix in most international regions (leading us to say that Netflix internationally is in a golden age) and movie selections in international regions are now far superior to the movie collection present in the US.

The Good: Netflix Top 10s

netflix top 10s

Netflix Top 10 Site

Netflix data has been notoriously hard to get at. Up until now, we’ve always had to rely on select data announcements from Netflix which were using the heavily criticized 2-minute feature.

In a bid to get its data more reflective of what others in the industry are doing (notably Nielsen) Netflix announced a new top 10 site which gives us top 10 data for the past week across the globe and perhaps, more importantly, gives us hourly data for the top 40 titles that week in four respective categories.

It’s by no means a perfect system and has plenty of flaws but more data is good is our mantra and we hope to see it expanded over the coming years.

Neutral: Netflix Gaming

netflix gaming

Rumors behind an expansion into gaming have been on the cards for quite some time. The expansion was surrounded in mystery and partly because of this, when the first wave of games eventually came, they were a little, underwhelming.

The current iteration of Netflix gaming is essentially a hyperlink to your respective app store and some basic authentication. The game selection thus far is relatively lackluster to say the least as well.

With that said, we believe gaming will play an important role and some of the recent hires in the space suggest Netflix is taking it seriously.

In conclusion, there are just way too many questions right now about the efforts but we are excited. Therefore, it’s way too early to pass proper judgment on what Netflix Gaming is at this early stage.

Neutral but maybe Bad: Netflix’s Content Lineup for 2021

Squid Game On Track To Topple Lupin

Squid Game – Picture: Netflix

Overall, 2021’s lineup has been very mixed but with some notable bright spots but on the whole a lot of hit and miss. We’ll dive into the numbers for 2021 in terms of content in another article before the year is out.

Particularly on the TV side, it feels like there’s been an emphasis placed on certain genres such as reality and young adult. There have also been months without huge hits and perhaps conversations about Netflix’s overall lineup have perhaps skewed by the release of Squid Game in September.

One of the biggest lingering questions for us is with some of Netflix’s biggest shows either having ended in 2021 or are soon to end so the question is, is there enough coming down the pipeline to replace it? Does Netflix have a show to fill the Lucifer hole? A new show to fill the Money Heist hole or the Ozark hole? We’re not sure.

Squid Game took the world by storm but it’s worth noting that the show is very much an outlier to Netflix’s huge library of other international content.

Netflix’s 2021 movie slate was mostly propped up by strong acquisitions including the likes of the animated movies mentioned earlier. It definitely got stronger towards the tail end of the year with some of their award contenders but there’s plenty of generic and uninspired cookie-cutter filler too throughout the year.

On the bright side, we’re currently very optimistic for 2022 with lots of standout upcoming Originals.

The Bad: Netflix’s Leaky Bucket

This year highlighted more than any previous year perhaps how fickle Netflix’s Original lineup potentially is.

The Netflix Original library has grown to over 2,600 titles but over the last year, we’ve seen dozens of titles only licensed in recent years depart the service.

Worst of all, most of the titles that do leave often never find new streaming homes meaning they’re stuck in the ether with no way of watching.

This, to us, continues to point out the inherent problem with labeling everything a Netflix Original. Prime Video is by no means a perfect service but at least differentiates between an Original and an Exclusive.

This opens up question marks as to how much of the library does Netflix actually own?

The Ugly: The Dave Chappelle Debacle

Dave Chappelle The Closer

On October 5th, the controversy floodgates opened once again with the release of another Dave Chappelle special called The Closer dropping onto the service around the globe.

As with some of his other Netflix specials, Dave Chappelle addresses the trans-community and naturally, it causes a stir once again.

While the debate around what Dave Chappelle said and meant can be argued in either direction, we specifically think the way Netflix handled the situation following the release certainly left a lot to be desired.

Whether it’s from the internal letters leaked, the public suspensions of employees who spoke out (even the clarity around that), and worst of all Ted Sarandos’s tone-deaf memo.

Netflix can and should make the case for free speech and giving its artists a voice (even when a minority or majority disagree with it) within the confines of the law but the way it handled this only served to add fuel to the fire.

We could now segue into some of the other baffling PR goofs in 2021 or moan generally about what information gets released and when but that’s an article for another day.

Other General Thoughts on Netflix in 2021

  • We often get asked who we think is winning or at least doing the best to compete with Netflix. For 2021, that is undoubtedly HBO Max who (rightly or wrongly) really made its streaming service a go-to for fans of movies with project popcorn. They’ve also been consistent with their new shows and their depth of library is still incredibly impressive. Their international rollout and technical woes continue to hold them back from truly competing on the global stage, however.
  • Netflix began competing against digital and print publications with the launch of Tudum (not to be confused with its fan event ran months before the launch of the website). It’s unclear what the general strategy of the site seems to be going forward and generally speaks to the confused marketing strategy Netflix tends to pursue.
  • It’s been one of the biggest years ever for Netflix in the acquisitions space. The two big acquisitions that caught our eyes in 2021 was the Roald Dahl library acquisition and the gaming studio Night School Studio.
  • In terms of technology, Disney+ has been far more innovative in 2021 at least when it comes to consumer functions. The introduction of IMAX enhanced is very much on our wishlist.

So there are our thoughts on Netflix’s 2021? What did you think were Netflix’s strong points or weak points this year? Let us know down in the comments.

Written by

Founder of What's on Netflix, Kasey has been tracking the comings and goings of the Netflix library for over a decade. Covering everything from new movies, series and games from around the world, Kasey is in charge of covering breaking news, covering all the new additions now available on Netflix and what's coming next.