It’s not your imagination: US Netflix has a much smaller selection than it used to


No, you haven’t gone crazy. Netflix’s catalog of movies and TV shows really is shrinking.

The streaming service’s library for American subscribers has shrunk by a third since 2014, according to a report by AllFlicks, a website that lists and categorizes Netflix content by country. In March of 2014, the US Netflix library contained approximately 6,500 movies and 1,600 television shows. As of yesterday (March 23), Netflix offered its US subscribers 4,330 movies and 1,200 TV shows—decreases of 33% and 26%, respectively.

In total, US Netflix has lost 32% of its titles in a little over two years.

While US Netflix might be shrinking, it still has a lot more content than the rest of the world. Britain, for instance, only has about 3,000 titles to America’s 5,500. Australia only has about 2,000. India, which Netflix entered in January (along with dozens of other countries), only has 875.

The reason is that securing international streaming rights to shows and movies is exceedingly difficult—laws and regulations differ by country, as does the type of content that people around the world consume. Netflix hopes that its library in other countries will eventually rival its comprehensive selection in the US.

That goal might be accomplished sooner rather than later, if the US library continues to shrink. And there are three key factors at play that suggest it might continue to do so:

Competition from other streaming services

For a while, Netflix dominated the streaming media space. But services like Hulu and Amazon Video have seriously ramped up streaming efforts in recent years. When the streaming rights for a popular movie or TV show are up for grabs, it’s not just Netflix going after them.

Last year, Hulu nabbed the exclusive rights to Seinfeld—a classic series Netflix would probably love to be able to offer to its subscribers. (Netflix did win the rights to stream Friends in a similar deal). Hulu similarly secured the rights to stream all episodes of upcoming AMC series, including from The Walking Dead spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead. In 2011, Hulu wasn’t much of a factor in those types of deals: Netflix was the exclusive streaming home for AMC’s Mad Men and The Walking Dead back then.

A few months after Hulu beat out Netflix on Seinfeld, Amazon outbid Netflix to stream the new show from Jeremy Clarkson, the former face of BBC’s popular auto series, Top Gear. The e-commerce company’s video wing also won the streaming rights to USA Network’s brilliant new hacker series, Mr. Robot.

Bigger focus on originals

Netflix will spend over $5 billion on content this year—much of that devoted to making its own shows. The streaming service has deliberately shifted its strategy toward developing original shows instead of licensing outside content. Not only are original shows (and, increasingly, movies) the most watched content on Netflix, but they’re also the easiest to market.

The company doesn’t have to worry about licensing original shows around the world because, of course, it owns the rights to them. Netflix is said to be developing 600 hours of original programming for 2016—that’s 25 days of content. And these shows are designed to appeal to broad global audiences, not necessarily just Americans.

As it has shown in its licensing strategy, Netflix loves exclusivity, and there’s nothing more exclusive to Netflix than a show Netflix made itself. The value of a Netflix subscription, the company might argue, is in how much content you can get that you can’t find on any other streaming service.

Trimming the fat

A report from October 2015 by found a nearly identical decrease to what AllFlicks found in the total number of titles that Netflix offered its subscribers in the US. But it also found that the catalog is considerably newer than it used to be. In 2014, 37% of Netflix titles were produced in the 2010s. In October of 2015, that number was 65%.

Certainly, with another year of new movies and shows to choose from, that percentage was bound to go up—but not necessarily by the amount that it did.

Netflix may be getting rid of a lot of the older (most of it obscure) content that subscribers weren’t watching in the first place. That doesn’t explain why lots of great movies have left Netflix in the last few years, but it might explain, in sheer, raw numbers, why the US Netflix catalog has dropped a third of its weight since 2014.

Quartz reached out to Netflix for comment and we’ll update this story if the company responds.

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