Analysis by Frank Pallotta, CNN Business
Updated: Thu, 23 Jun 2022 12:37:02 GMT
Source: CNN Business
Netflix is having a strange 2022.
The streaming giant's stock has plummeted roughly 70% this year, investors are queasy about its business and the one-time darling of the entertainment industry now looks to have a murky future. Yet, Netflix is still a media company that — thanks to its 221.6 million global subscribers — has the ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist.
Just ask Kate Bush.
The English singer's 1985 hit single, "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)," has taken over the music charts — 37 years after its release. It's currently No. 1 on Spotify's Top Songs in the US, No. 5 on Billboard's hot 100 and broke UK records after hitting No. 1 last weekend.
All because the song is being showcased in the latest season of "Stranger Things" — the streaming platform's most popular franchise. Global streams of the song surged more than 8,700% on Spotify following the show's May 27 season four premiere.
The fact that "Running Up That Hill" has become a sudden hit nearly four decades after its release represents more than just an old song catching fire on the charts. It's a potent example of Netflix's massive cultural power, even as the company is trying to turn itself around.
Running up the charts
Other songs have seen boosts to sales and streams thanks to being featured in prominent films and TV shows (it has happened for Queen a few times). But few tunes have been part a major plot point the way "Running Up That Hill" is in "Stranger Things 4."
The latest season of the science fiction horror series, which takes place in 1986, not only makes the song a favorite of the character Max Mayfield, played by Sadie Sink, the tune is played during a pivotal scene and helps save her from an evil multidimensional force.
A moment like that is a music supervisor's dream because the scene becomes inextricable from the song, building a connection between content and consumer that's "very rare," said Serona Elton, director of the music industry program at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music.
"Having music just playing in the background is not going to have the same type of impact compared to having the music becoming a fundamental part of the scene," Elton told CNN Business.
But none of this could have happened without Netflix's ability to push the series to its millions of subscribers around the world. Other streaming platforms have millions of users too, but Netflix is still at the top of the hill. It also helps that "Strangers Things" is wildly popular.
"Stranger Things 4 — Volume 1" debuted in May to record numbers, and has since amassed a total of 883 million hours viewed for the platform. That makes it Netflix's most popular English-language TV show ever. It's been No. 1 on Netflix's English top 10 list all four weeks since it premiered.
The new season also has dominated social media since its debut, with more than 7.7 billion organic impressions across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok, according to the streamer. That's helped turn "Running Up That Hill" into a viral meme.
Bush recently thanked the Duffer Brothers, the show's creators, for "Running Up That Hill's" renewed popularity.
"I'm overwhelmed by the scale of affection and support the song is receiving," she wrote on her website. "It's all happening really fast, as if it's being driven along by a kind of elemental force."
Upside down, but not out
Netflix's world has been turned upside down this year after the company reported in April that it lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade, news that shocked Wall Street and wiped out billions in Netflix market cap. The company's stock, which was trading at $337 per share before that news, now stands at $178.
Industry experts have been wondering what steps Netflix might take to recover, spitballing ideas that include running ads, curbing password sharing and making nice with movie theaters.
The widespread influence of "Stranger Things" shows that Netflix may be down, but it's not out.
Netflix distribution is still remarkable in the streaming world, even as rivals are catching up, which allows the service to own pop culture with content such as "Bird Box," "Squid Game" and "Stranger Things." And as Netflix attempts to regain its footing after several disastrous quarters, it's important to remember what it's capable of.
Elton said that this type of exposure can help multiple constituencies.
Bush will likely see "increased revenues and maybe a new demographic of fans who might seek out other music of hers," she said. As for Netflix, the song's newfound popularity has made it "newsworthy" and "possibly could bring more people to the show itself."
On Tuesday, the company released a new trailer for this season's final two episodes, which will land July 1. The brief teaser highlights the show's signature monsters and nostalgic excitement, as well as the kids of Hawkins, Indiana, bruised and battered but ready to fight on — almost like Netflix itself right now.
The song the trailer was set to? "Running Up That Hill."