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Netflix still on track to release more originals in 2021 than this year, but production woes are setting in

Production is up in Europe and Asia, but the US is much slower

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings is still confident that 2021 will see more Netflix originals released than this year, but he is acknowledging that with the pandemic affecting production, especially in the United States, it won’t be as many as previously predicted.

Hastings sat down with many publications ahead of the launch of his new book, and one question that repeatedly came up is how Netflix is fairing with production on titles moving slower or stopping completely. Netflix is far from the only company encountering these issues, but the slowdown is still prevalent. Hastings says despite those obvious setbacks, the streamer is still on track to release more original films and series in 2021 than this year.

“Next year, we’ve planned out the year — we’ve got a great selection of content,” Hastings told Variety. “It’s still more originals than this year. It’s not up by as much as we first forecast, but it is up on a year-over-year basis. Of course in Europe we’re producing, in Asia we’re producing. We’re all hopeful for a vaccine, so we can get back to more intensive work.”

To put that into context, in 2018, Netflix released close to 1,500 hours of TV shows, movies, and other productions, according to Quartz. Netflix released 371 TV shows and movies in the US in 2019, according to Variety. In 2020, at a time when other streamers, networks, and studios are struggling, it seemed like Netflix was practically releasing 40 to 50 new original titles (or returning seasons of original titles) every month. Netflix’s seemingly never-ending pipeline of original content is one of its biggest advantages. For Hastings to feel confident that original series and films will still outpace what the streamer has released in 2020 is impressive, to say the least.

Both Hastings and co-CEO Ted Sarandos warned investors and analysts back in April during an earnings call that production pipelines were likely to be impacted. But they also noted in a letter to shareholders that “our content competitors and suppliers will be impacted about as much as we are, in terms of new titles.” That’s true. Disney couldn’t resume production on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, delaying its heavily anticipated Disney Plus series. WarnerMedia also had to further delay its anticipated Friends reunion on HBO Max because they can’t film in front of a live audience.

Hastings told Bloomberg that “everyone is figuring out how to make it work,” likening it to a writers strike, like the strike of 2007-2008 that impacted many of the season’s broadcast shows. Netflix and other studios are navigating moving forward with productions while planning responses in case something happens on the sets. For example, Warner Bros. shut down The Batman set for a second time after Robert Pattinson reportedly contracted COVID-19. Warner Bros. head Ann Sarnoff told The Hollywood Reporter it would be naive to think that everything would “run smoothly,” adding that the studio has “built in contingencies.”

“If someone tests positive, you do contact tracing, you pause, you evaluate, and come back when you can,” Sarnoff said. “I think it would have been naïve to think we wouldn’t have certain cases on certain productions.”

The big “ifs” and “whens” hanging in the air are when production can resume fully in cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta where many films and shows are based. Hastings’ hope is that, with proper testing, production can pick up through September and October, he told The Wall Street Journal, but like so many other facets that exist right now, it’s impossible to predict.