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Who Won the Week: Netflix or HBO?

With both companies throwing Meryl Streep–caliber haymakers over the past seven days, it’s worth determining which one picked up the most buzz

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There was a time when the end of December and the start of January was a television dead zone, but streaming services have turned the battle for supremacy into a 12-month affair. On December 29, Netflix released the new season of Black Mirror, and on January 5, it dropped the UK’s Channel 4 series, The End of the F***ing World. The company’s hyperaggressive strategies have taken advantage of a time that more traditional outlets still treat like a period of respite, commandeering a majority share of headlines and garnering heaping amounts of that amorphous but all-important thing known as buzz.

For streaming services like Netflix, buzz is more essential to their business model than it is to broadcast and cable networks, which prize ratings. With buzz—be it from favorable reviews, blockbuster news that goes viral, or Emmy wins—comes added exposure, and with added exposure comes the potential to add more subscribers. For Netflix, the payoff of creating more buzzy original programming seems to be working: It added more than 8 million subscribers in the final quarter of 2017, its best quarter to date.

And it hasn’t stopped in 2018. At this early point in the year, it’s safe to say Netflix is winning the buzz wars, if only through sheer quantity—lest we forget: It plans to release 80 original movies just this year. And while its currently airing productions are still at the center of the conversation, Netflix has continued to make splashy deals (and headlines) for future projects. But this week saw an old veteran fight back: HBO went off. How noteworthy of a week did it have? Two words: Meryl. Streep.

Because this week particularly seemed to be defined by Netflix and HBO throwing haymakers back and forth, it’s worth asking which of the entertainment powerhouses had the better week. To objectively answer that question, let’s round up the biggest deals and premieres from HBO and Netflix over the past seven days—giving each individual entry a score out of 10—before determining an overall tally for both companies.


The Deals

Netflix

Charlie Kaufman is writing a film adaptation for I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Why This Is Big

The horror novel from Iain Reid is an international best seller with a sterling reputation, and the adaptation gives Netflix another potential, presumably mid-budget entry to its growing film catalog. But getting Kaufman, specifically, is the biggest part of this deal. You know his work: He wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He’s been nominated for four Oscars, and the movies he’s written have racked up 10 Oscar nominations.

Honestly, Netflix’s Twitter account summed it up quite well.

Score

8/10

HBO

Tiffany Haddish signs two-year, first-look deal

Why This Is Big

Tiffany Haddish is a comedic star on the rise. While she’s been in the stand-up game for over 20 years, her breakout came with last year’s critical and commercial smash Girls Trip, and she’s followed that up by releasing a best-selling book, hosting SNL, and delivering one of the funniest acceptance speeches in awards-season history.

She might be the buzziest comedian on the planet; simply landing her gives HBO stand-up prestige despite the fact Netflix has wrested pretty much sole ownership of the market. If you aren’t yet familiar with Haddish, there’s about a million places to start, but please enjoy this Drunk History bit where she posits that Hitler is chilling somewhere with Tupac.

Score

9/10

Netflix

A series of 15-minute stand-up specials are on their way

Why This Is Big

As The Ringer’s Alison Herman explained, this new deal is favorable for both Netflix and comedians looking to break out. For comedians, it permits a great deal of exposure. For Netflix, it creates a format that subscribers could ostensibly be tempted to check out without much hesitance, compared to the traditional 60-minute set that requires much more commitment. While Netflix missed out on Haddish, it’s dominating every other facet of the stand-up comedy market.

Score

7/10

HBO

Meryl Streep joins Big Little Lies Season 2

Why This Is Big

It’s Meryl fucking Streep.

Score

10/10

Netflix

In talks to purchase the third Cloverfield movie from Paramount

Why This Is Big

Aside from the orc dumpster fire that is Bright, Netflix hasn’t really made blockbuster movies, let alone high-concept ones. The Cloverfield franchise doesn’t have the budget of a blockbuster movie, but it does have the pedigree of one—as it comes from the mind of mystery-box aficionado J.J. Abrams. The third Cloverfield movie, much like the first two, has been shrouded in mystery. The marketing for it thus far has been cryptic clues left on websites that suggest it will be titled “Cloverfield Station,” though many are still calling it God Particle. The movie’s also been delayed a few times before release, and is now expected out on April 20.

Given Paramount’s recent financial struggles, selling the new Cloverfield movie might be in its best interests; Netflix, meanwhile, gets to reap the reward of a movie franchise with a niche but passionate fan base.

Score

9/10

HBO

Helen Mirren will star in new Catherine the Great miniseries

Why This Is Big

As if nabbing Meryl Streep weren’t enough, HBO will also have Dame Helen Mirren on its roster in the near future for a four-part miniseries about 18th-century Russian monarch Catherine the Great, whom Mirren will be playing. This already sounded delicious, but here’s the icing on the cake: The series will also be directed by Philip Martin, who has been at the helm for several episodes of The Crown. This is a man who knows how to direct the shit out of a lavish, regal set piece.

Score

9/10


The Premieres

HBO

Mosaic

Why This Is Big

The new Steven Soderbergh miniseries is an ambitious first, starting out as an interactive app that adds additional material to the six episodes currently on air. It invites you to try to solve the mystery at its center: The killing of a children’s book author, played by Sharon Stone. It is a daring attempt at expanding the boundaries of television—unfortunately, Mosaic is more interesting in concept than in execution.

“What you wind up watching, on the app, feels like an assembly: that initial director’s cut of a movie that’s overlong, misshapen, and badly paced,” The Ringer’s K. Austin Collins wrote in his review. “You’ve heard of directors saying they find the movie in the editing room. Mosaic in app form plays like a seven-and-a-half-hour movie that has yet to get that hands-on treatment, only more tedious, because it has the nerve to put that onus on you every 30 minutes.”

Score

6/10

Netflix

One Day at a Time

Why This Is Big

The rare reboot that doesn’t feel like a waste of time (unlike Fuller House, Arrested Development Season 4, to keep it specific to Netflix), One Day at a Time returns for a second season on Friday that’s just as good as the first. It also adds the inevitable subtext of Donald Trump’s presidency, but not in a way that feels excessively forced. As Vulture’s Jen Chaney wrote in her review:

“These 13 episodes of One Day at a Time would have told the stories they were going to tell regardless of current headlines because they were written and shot months ago. Still, it’s clear that executive producers Gloria Calderón Kellett, Mike Royce, and Norman Lear, along with their team of writers, feel compelled to tackle topics that carry extra social currency right now, and to do so by swinging between light, accessible comedy, and genuinely moving drama. Along with their excellent cast—including national treasure Rita Moreno™, proving yet again that she’s still got it at age 86—they continue to walk that fine tonal line with grace and an infectious sense of joy.”

Score

9/10


According to this very scientific scoring system, this was a close call: HBO earned 34 points to Netflix’s 33. HBO “officially” had a better week than Netflix. Now sure, HBO could use this innocuous, narrow victory to gloat over Netflix, but this is just one week—as I said at the beginning, it’s a 52-week-long season now.

If anything, HBO and Netflix’s early dominance in 2018 is a rallying cry for their competitors. Apple is making moves with a Damien Chazelle series and a whole slate of Reese Witherspoon–focused programming; if I was Hulu or Showtime, I’d be trying really hard to get Daniel Day-Lewis out of retirement.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.