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  • Writer's pictureAnne Nation

Comfort Viewing in the Age of the Coronavirus

In these unprecedented times of the coronavirus pandemic, people stuck at home are turning to TV to keep themselves busy. Netflix itself has boasted a surge in subscriptions; in its Q1 2020 results release to shareholders, Netflix reported 15.77 million new subscriptions (The Guardian). But these numbers don’t necessarily signify a successful future for Netflix.

For one, Netflix has shut down production since March, although it does have new content to add for some time (The Guardian). Although Netflix gained about 16 million subscriptions in Q1 2020, new streaming service Disney+ is turning out to be a serious competitor. On February 3rd, Disney+ had 28.6 million subscribers; on April 8th, it reported 50 million subscribers (The Guardian). In the span of two months since the outbreak of COVID-19, Disney+ doubled its subscriptions to 50 million, which took Netflix seven years to reach.

In the short term, it seems the pandemic has benefited streaming services, especially Netflix. But Netflix has admitted that the future performance of the company is uncertain. In fact, they expect the “flattening of the results” as the lockdowns end and people can resume their normal social lives (Broadcast). Analysts have concluded that because of the production shutdown and growth plateau, Netflix needs to produce some alluring new content to prevent consumers from canceling their subscription in favor of another streaming service like Disney+ (Benzinga). So what Netflix decides to produce after the pandemic is over will have a large impact on the company’s future.

So let’s ask: what are people looking for in TV these days? What kind of content should Netflix be creating for their audience if they want to stay ahead in the streaming game? The answer is: comfort television. Comfort television, those feel-good shows that you can’t help coming back to, is becoming more popular these days (Variety). And why wouldn’t it—these programs let us escape these stressful times, as we contemplate the uncertain future and separation. In these difficult times, when parents are unemployed and kids don’t know when they’ll go back to school, we need messages of perseverance and strength. We need messages on the importance of family, sticking together through thick and thin, on keeping your head up even when it seems the whole world is spiraling out of control. We need comfort shows that remind us to stay strong no matter what the world has in mind for us. And the people want that.

Don’t believe us? A study by Immersion Neuroscience came to a similar conclusion (FastCompany). In this study, people’s brains and heart rate were measured as they watched different shows. What it found was that people enjoyed comfort TV, or in their own words, “something funny, familiar, and easy to digest” (FastCompany). For example, people enjoyed watching The Office more than Too Old to Die Young.

This brings us to ANNE WITH AN E, which has been consistently praised since its premiere in 2017 for its feel-good qualities as it follows a spunky, optimistic girl finding her way in the world. In recent months, many articles have recommended ANNE WITH AN E to watch during the pandemic because of its feel-good vibes. Notably, Vogue Magazine featured ANNE WITH AN E as one of the most soothing shows to watch during quarantine (Vogue). The messages of perseverance and importance of family are the core principles of ANNE WITH AN E, as Anne overcomes her difficult past and finds a chosen family.

Unsurprisingly, many people agree. ANNE WITH AN E’s popularity has dramatically increased since the pandemic. All over Twitter you can find people who have recently discovered the show because of quarantine binging and fell in love with it. (Not to mention the heartbreak they felt when they found out it’s been canceled.)

The numbers show the demand as well. In this Google trend chart showing interest over time of Netflix originals that premiered or had new seasons in Q1 2020, ANNE WITH AN E is the only show that has had an increase in web searches during the pandemic.

So what’s the take home message here? Right now, things may be going smoothly for Netflix, but in the long run Netflix needs to consider compelling shows to add to their platform. And what better than season four of ANNE WITH AN E, a comfort show people around the world have turned to during the pandemic to lift their spirits up?


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