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Netflix CEO Responds to ‘13 Reasons Why’ Controversy: Don’t Like It? Don’t Watch It

Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chairman and CEO, brushed off criticism of teen-suicide drama “13 Reasons Why” — saying that no one is being forced to tune in to the show.

The Netflix chief was asked about the company’s renewal of “13 Reasons Why” for season 3 Wednesday at its annual shareholders meeting, which was conducted via webcast. The question was submitted by an unidentified shareholder who asked how Netflix weighed the decision to bring back a show that is “potentially controversial for a segment of its user base.”

“It is controversial,” Hastings acknowledged. “But nobody has to watch it. We’re an on-demand service, and we feel great about the possibility of season 3 and look forward to supporting the team’s work in that.”

Hastings said “13 Reasons Why” is “engaging content” that “has been enormously popular and successful.”

According to Nielsen estimates, the premiere episode of “13 Reasons Why” season 2 drew 6 million U.S. viewers on connected-TV devices in the first three days of its release (May 18-20). That’s higher than many recent Netflix original premieres, although it was less than half the turnout for “Stranger Things” second season premiere ep last fall.

Some activists and health professionals have voiced concerns that “13 Reasons Why” may contribute to copycat suicides among teens.

On Wednesday, conservative watchdog group Parents Television Council, in a statement about the “13 Reasons Why” renewal, said that Netflix “potentially has the blood of children on their hands from keeping this series… on its platform for children to view.” Netflix recently bulked up the parental controls on the streaming service, including allowing users to set password-only access to individual titles.

Netflix has responded to concerns about the show’s themes by adding a new advisory video in front of the season 2 episode telling viewers about how to get help if they’re in crisis and pointing them to resources on the website 13reasonswhy.info. Netflix also has two after-show-style discussion specials called “Beyond the Reasons,” with the show’s actors, experts, and educators breaking down the series.

The first season of the series, based on Jay Asher’s young-adult book by the same name, centers around the death of Hannah Baker, a high-school girl who has left behind a series of 13 audiotapes explaining what led her to suicide. In season 2, Hannah’s parents have sued the high school while at the same time, someone is planting a series of ominous Polaroids pointing to a conspiracy to cover up misdeeds by other classmates.

“13 Reasons Why” is produced for Netflix by Paramount Television. While season one garnered critical acclaim, the sophomore season has bombed with reviewers with a current critics’ approval rating of just 27% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Meanwhile, at the shareholders’ meeting Wednesday — which lasted about 20 minutes — Netflix shareholders approved the re-election of four directors: Anne Sweeney, former president of Disney-ABC Television Group; Richard Barton, executive chairman of Zillow Group and founder of Expedia; Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal counsel; and Rodolphe Belmer, the former CEO of Canal Plus Group who joined Netflix’s board in January.

Netflix shareholders also approved several non-binding measures that the company’s board opposes. Those included eliminating the supermajority vote requirement (representing two-thirds of outstanding shares) on corporate matters to allow for simple majority votes as well as to adopt a “proxy access” bylaw to let shareholders owning at least 3% of Netflix’s outstanding shares for at least one year to be able to nominate board candidates.

However, because they’re non-binding measures, Netflix’s board of directors isn’t required to enact them — and the board has ignored such measures that have been approved in the past. Some activist investors have repeatedly complained that Netflix’s board is not receptive to shareholder concerns.

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