Before Season 3 of Netflix’s teen-targeted suicide drama, 13 Reasons Why, is released on August 23, the Parents Television Council has appealed to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to end the series and cease its continued distribution.
PTC President Tim Winter wrote to Hastings, attaching the signatures of more than a thousand parents, grandparents, and other concerned citizens “who think Netflix was too slow to react to concerns about the messages and imagery in 13 Reasons Why and who still believe the show should be pulled entirely.”
Winter urged Hastings to make the connection between Netflix’s historic subscriber loss and Netflix’s continued distribution of programs like 13 Reasons Why that are targeted to children and can be harmful. Winter pointed out that this only serves to erode the trust of families who would generally be potential Netflix subscribers. The PTC outlined several solutions to Hastings that could help Netflix win back the trust of families and earn more subscribers.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
August 13, 2019
Dear Mr. Hastings,
I reached-out to you and your Board of Directors ahead of your June shareholder meeting, urging you to do something about the graphic suicide drama 13 Reasons Why, which a National Institutes of Health study has linked to a 30% increase in suicides among children aged 10-17.
I was understandably heartened by Netflix’s announcement a little over a month ago that you would be removing the three-minute scene from season one that depicts Hannah’s suicide. I was also pleased that you won’t feature suicide as a theme in any future seasons of the series.
Likewise, I publicly praised Netflix for its decision not to include portrayals of tobacco or e-cigarette use in new TV shows rated TV-14 or lower, and in movies rated TV-13 and below.
But Mr. Hastings, Netflix still has a problem: You are losing subscribers.
Amid reports of plummeting stock value and billions of dollars of debt, analysts are observing, “It’s notable that [Netflix] lost subscribers before they lost a meaningful amount of content and before there was direct competition from their suppliers.”
Maybe it’s not the content that you’re losing — or about to lose — that is driving-off subscribers. Maybe it’s the content you choose to hold on to.
Maybe it’s not enough for Netflix to try to staunch the bloodletting by pouring more money into development, trying to add content might lure folks back. Maybe you need to consider what it is you’re doing that’s driving people away.
Many families, frustrated by the lack of family-suitable content on traditional broadcast and cable television, gladly welcomed Netflix into their homes as offering more options, flexibility and control. My guess is many of those same families quickly felt betrayed and disillusioned by the lack of control over the menu options, high visibility of pornographic and other harmful content, and lack of adequate parental controls.
Whatever plans you may have to add more children’s programming, for many families it’s too little, too late. Whatever content you might have that’s “good” for children, you can’t package it up with content that’s deadly for children.
Attached to this letter you will find the names of more than a thousand parents, grandparents and other concerned citizens who think Netflix was too slow to react to concerns about the messages and imagery in 13 Reasons Why and who still believe the show should be pulled entirely.
Although removing the suicide scene was a step in the right direction, as Mark Sinyor, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto notes in an LA Times Op-Ed, “The deleted suicide scene represents less than three minutes of the 12-hour run time of the show’s first season. Those hours are essentially a lengthy tutorial for young viewers on how suicide could be a predictable or even expected consequence of common stressful life events. The show presents suicide as a way to get revenge and sends a message that seeking help is pointless. Removing one shocking scene won’t change that message.”
The Parents Television Council has identified the following three key improvements that Netflix could implement immediately to stop the hemorrhaging of subscribers:
- Cease distribution of content that sexualizes children – specifically: Big Mouth, Sex Education and Desire.
- Stop using youth-targeted, youth-casted programming to romanticize or glorify violence, drug abuse, risky sexual behavior, and profanity.
- Embrace, implement and market content filtering functionalities for all Netflix-delivered programming (such as what VidAngel and others provide), so that parents can have ultimate control over the content streaming into their homes by skipping past unwanted, explicit material. We believe families would be willing to pay a premium for such a technological feature; and it could be included alongside a ‘family plan’ that allows subscribers to pay a slightly lower monthly subscription fee that would exclude Mature-rated and pornographic content, similar to what Sirius/XM Satellite Radio has offered its subscribers.
We believe that Netflix could add millions of subscriptions if they implemented these changes and embraced what countless families want and need.
Timothy F. Winter, President
Parents Television Council