Was 'Cuties' fallout to blame for Netflix's sharply slowing growth?

Gary Levin, USA TODAY
·2 min read
Was 'Cuties' fallout to blame for Netflix's sharply slowing growth?
Was 'Cuties' fallout to blame for Netflix's sharply slowing growth?

The continuing controversy over "Cuties" – a French film designed as a commentary about the "hypersexualization of children" that instead has been condemned for exploiting it – may have helped dent Netflix's solid growth.

The streaming giant Wednesday said it gained just 2.2 million global subscribers in the three months ended Sept. 30 – and just 180,000 in the U.S. – after adding 16 million from January to March and 10 million from April to June. The third-quarter gain is less than the 2.5 million Netflix forecast to analysts in July.

The sharp gains earlier this year were attributed in part to shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic, and Netflix warned last summer that it expected growth to slow as lockdowns eased and competition intensified from new services, including Comcast's free Peacock.

It's impossible to attribute the lower numbers directly to the "Cuties"-inspired boycott drive. But at least two analytics firms said last month their data showed Netflix was suffering higher "churn" rates, which measure subscription cancellations, in the immediate aftermath of a #CancelNetflix movement that began online.

The company now counts 195 million subscribers, of which 73 million are in North America, and expects the global total to top 200 million by year's end.

Backstory: Netflix charged with promoting lewdness in 'Cuties.' So what happens next?

In the controversial French drama "Cuties," Fathia Youssouf (left) plays an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant who rebels against the conservative beliefs of her mother (Maïmouna Gueye) when she becomes interested in a Parisian dance crew.
In the controversial French drama "Cuties," Fathia Youssouf (left) plays an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant who rebels against the conservative beliefs of her mother (Maïmouna Gueye) when she becomes interested in a Parisian dance crew.

Netflix did not develop or produce "Cuties," but acquired distribution rights to the film, which earned strong reviews and a director's award at Sundance Film Festival. Director Maïmouna Doucouré told Time the film is a social commentary and part of the battle against "hypersexualization of children."

Much of the backlash stemmed from promotional material depicting the young cast in suggestive dance poses with bare midriffs and short shorts, especially an image that appeared on the Netflix home page to promote the film when it began streaming on Sept. 9. Netflix pulled the image after outcry, saying it was "deeply sorry" for the "inappropriate" artwork.

The backstory: 'Cuties': Here's why the controversial Netflix film became a combatant in America's culture war

Since then, at least four state attorneys general asked Netflix to pull the film; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) urged a criminal investigation; Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he was unsatisfied with Netflix's apology; and a Texas grand jury indicted Netflix earlier this month for promoting "lewd material of children."

Netflix has apologized for artwork for the film "Cuties."
Netflix has apologized for artwork for the film "Cuties."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Netflix: Is tiny subscriber growth pegged to 'Cuties' scandal?