Netflix’s Reed Hastings changed the way we watch TV, for better or worse | reed hastings

Perhaps nothing sums up the legacy of Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings as clearly as true. dr pepper commercial.

In the 30-second ad, a live sports staple, a group of friends get together to watch a college football game, but, gasp, the TV has disconnected from the streaming service. A mad scramble ensues to track down a piece of paper with the password on it and painstakingly enter it via arrows on a remote control. Once they log back in, the room exhales, but not before a fan takes out his frustration. “I miss basic cable,” he huffs.

During a company earnings call on Thursday, Hastings, 62, announced that he would resign his day-to-day role as co-CEO of Netflix with COO Greg Peters, who will continue to work alongside the company’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos. The changing of the guard marks the end of an era for the streaming giant, which would be neither an industry leader nor a cultural force without Hastings, who will continue as the company’s chief executive.

His departure was revealed in an otherwise mixed package of a call in which Netflix promoted an increase in subscribers; this is after the company lost nearly 1.2 million subscribers in the first half of 2022 and blamed account sharing. In fact, competition between streaming services has never been more intense, from HBO Max to Amazon Prime to NFL+. But none of them would exist if Netflix hadn’t come along.

Hastings didn’t set out to take over the entertainment industry when he founded the company with Marc Randolph in the summer of 1997. Hastings, a computer scientist and mathematician, says the idea was born out of panic: He was six weeks late to return. a rented Apollo 13 VHS and he was having a hard time explaining the $40 late fee to his wife. He wondered why video rentals couldn’t work like a gym membership, where subscribers watched as much as they wanted. Randolph counters that he and Hastings hatched the idea for Netflix together.

The business they eventually launched was like a weird spinoff of Columbia House: a service that allowed customers to browse an online catalog and rent movies by mail for a subscription fee. This was exciting stuff for the turn of the century, when there was at least one video store in every neighborhood and Amazon was just a humble bookstore.

Hastings, who would invest $2.5 million in starting a software company that he founded and sold, did not expect many to sign up for his library of 925 titles. But people liked it so much that two months later, Jeff Bezos offered to buy the business from Hastings and Randolph for $16 million. In September 2000, after the dot-com crash hampered growth, Hastings and Randolph nearly sold Netflix back to Blockbuster for $50 million; Blockbuster, convinced the offer was a hoax, turned it down.

netflix logo over pictures of movies and shows
For the price of a Starbucks frou-frou drink, a Netflix subscriber could binge on this content. ad nauseam without suffering for a single commercial. Photo: Adrien Fillon/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Not long after, Netflix was shipping a million DVDs a day, racking up more than $500 million in revenue and putting Blockbuster and mom-and-pop video stores out of business. Before Amazon, an online shopping leviathan at this point, could break into Netflix’s market share, Hastings, inspired by YouTube, spurred the company into streaming video. In a short time, its library quickly grew from 1,000 titles to nearly 6,000 in the US alone. Under Hastings, Netflix shifted from signing content distribution deals with TV and movie companies to creating original content.

For the price of a Starbucks frou-frou drink, a Netflix subscriber could binge on this content. advertising nauseaam without suffering for a single commercial – the ideal home viewing experience.

Hastings helped turn Netflix into a one-stop shop. She aired popular movies within weeks of their box office debut, as well as hit original television series including Orange Is the New Black and esteemed network mainstays like The Office. Samsung and Sony were quick to integrate Netflix and other major streamers into their TV menus. Before Netflix, we were being taxed on set-top boxes, bogged down with too many remotes, and at the mercy of customer support from Time Warner and the like. It was Hastings who showed us that television didn’t have to be so complicated. It could even be on a phone or tablet.

Unfortunately for Hastings, Netflix became a victim of his success. It spurred not only Hollywood studios to get into the streaming business, but also tech rivals like Amazon and Apple. Where Netflix was once synonymous with streaming, it’s now one of the few options, and hardly the best of the bunch anymore.

As Netflix grew and made Hastings a billionaire, he had a hard time fending off criticism for pulling an episode of the comedy show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj in which the host roasted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and for continuing to finance to Dave Chapelle. and other comedians who stir up controversy in their stand-up specials. Hastings’ response: “We are not trying to make truth to power. We’re trying to entertain,” just made him sound like another out-of-touch corporate mogul.

As Silicon Valley leaders go, Hastings is more Tim Cook than Elon Musk, a low-key pragmatist to his core. The legacy he leaves is immense. Before Hastings came along, watching television was a passive experience. Thanks to him, viewers have more remote control than ever before, whether they like it or not.

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