Netflix fishes for new subscribers in US with free stream of 'To All the Boys I've Loved Before'

Sarah Perez

Netflix is looking to get young adults hooked on its service by making its popular teenage rom-com, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," available to stream for free to everyone in the U.S., including non-subscribers. This isn't the first time Netflix has offered free streaming -- it teased Brits last year by offering an episode of "The Crown" for free, and has run similar tests in markets like India and parts of South America. But this is one of the only times it has targeted the U.S. with such an offer.

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The offer of a free Netflix movie comes at a critical time for the service.

The company has hit a wall in terms of subscriber growth in the U.S., even as it's expanding worldwide. During last month's earnings, Netflix missed its forecast for U.S. subscriber growth for the third straight quarter, with just 423,000 domestic subscriber additions. Meanwhile, it surpassed expectations overseas with 8.3 million subscribers added instead of the 7 million expected.

Netflix has downplayed the impact of new streaming services, like Disney+ and Apple TV+, on its U.S. growth. But in reality, Netflix will soon be one of many streaming options for U.S. consumers to choose from -- HBO Max, NBCU's Peacock and mobile-only Quibi are set to arrive this year, filling up an already crowded market.

In addition, Netflix's slowing growth in the U.S. also can be attributed to, in part, continued price increases for a catalog that's now more dependent than ever on Netflix's original programming to keep subscribers hooked. And those originals haven't always performed well. In Q2, for example, the company even singled out its weak content slate for driving fewer paid net adds than anticipated.

Beyond that, there's also growing criticism that Netflix's originals just aren't as good as they used to be.

"To All the Boys I've Loved Before," on the other hand, is more of an exception. While the film itself is a cute, if fairly conventional, high school romance story, it became one of Netflix's "most viewed" original films to date. The movie, and other Netflix rom-coms like it, were watched by 80 million subscribers over the summer in 2018, the company also said. These films appeal to an underserved market -- people hungry for lightweight romances at a time when the industry is delivering anything but.

By year-end 2018, Netflix had greenlit a sequel to its breakout hit. That movie, "To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You," has now arrived -- making for a perfect time to promote the original.

Non-members are able to watch the free movie on the web and Android OS now through March 9. No credit card will need to be provided to watch.

Update: Confirmed with Netflix this is not the first time in U.S. It is one of the most high-profile U.S. free streams, however.