Netflix Is Getting Huge. But Can It Get Great?

Think of Netflix as the Upside Down in its sci-fi series “Stranger Things.” By this I don’t mean that it’s a nefarious or dangerous force. But it is a kind of alternative TV dimension, overlaying and replicating the known world of traditional television, that tries to acquire one of everything that exists in the universe of TV.

Initially, the company did this through literal acquisition: buying streaming rights to hit TV series. Then it did it through imitation: reviving Fox’s “Arrested Development” and creating originals, like “House of Cards,” in the mold of premium cable. Now it’s imitating through acquisition, spiriting away the likes of Mr. Murphy and Ms. Rhimes to its well-remunerated plane.

The history of TV is one of upstarts and competitors, and my first instinct was to liken Netflix to something like cable, which rose as a serious competitor to broadcast TV in the 1980s.

But there’s an important difference between cable channels and Netflix (besides whom you write your check to). Cable channels have brands. That was what made them different from broadcast networks, which tried to be, and had to be, everything. Cable channels had specialties and sensibilities: CNN was news; ESPN was sports; HBO was adult sophistication (give or take an “Entourage”).

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