Beckham is a confection—a delightfully uncomplicated look at a genuinely transformative, transcendent, controversial figure. For those enamored of the sports-meets-pop culture historical arc, the Studio 99-produced Netflix docuseries is a wide-angle take on a Big Bang moment and epochal talent and persona with the edges shaved off. For those with little memory of football beyond the 2010s, it is a helpful lesson in how far the game, in every conceivable aspect, has come. For we raging Gen-Xers and lifelong footballers, it is a dopamine-hit of nostalgia, down to the Adidas Predators, blousy kits, and Manchester United as a respectable organization.
What Beckham is not: the stuff of ambitious media strategy.
Netflix chief Reed Hastings is on a mission to convince the markets that, with exception, live sport is a distant reality for for his firm, that non-live scripted and unscripted original programming is an unwavering North Star when it comes to the genre. Which is all well and good; given the rollercoaster the streamers have endured over the last couple of years, one can hardly blame him for not wanting to jar investors with loose insinuations to anything beyond.
Yet many among the media establishment giddily embrace this as a sign that Netflix and its peers not only will, but should, double down on sports programming.
Which is questionable on its face. For one thing, were the code so easy to crack, would it not have been attempted by now? It of course has, and recent history alone shows the holes in the approach. Even if sport were an inexhaustible well of “storytelling”, viewers are fickle, treatments get formulaic, franchises eventually lose their sting. There will always be a “drift to quality”, as Teneo’s Neil Daugherty notes, but the premium executions, much less phenomena like Drive To Survive, are few and far between.
More than anything, Hastings’s non-pronouncements underscore a drift to the middle for the once-disruptor, the Costco-ization of the entertainment industry writ large, and a safe bet that customers would sooner let their refills lapse than actively cancel their streaming memberships. At risk, as a consequence, is any sort of identity or POV that supersedes managing “churn”. Daring, award-worthy projects and creators will go where the favorable deal terms are, but excellence is fated to get crowded in, indefinitely, with mass-market filler and Must-See reruns.
That a decade of take-no-prisoners radical reinvention has mellowed into docile investor relations exercises and ad-supported subscription tiers should surprise no one. The predictable impacts of the “Peak TV” and Everyone’s-a-Content-Producer Eras, echoed by this publication many times over, is bearing out. Whether it’s a net gain in the long run remains to be seen. But for now, it seems Ted Lasso has killed Tony Soprano.
This article is part of an ongoing series, The Football-Media Value Proposition