Search This Blog

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Wonderful Dominance of Netflix Over Television

The very first television program produced and originally distributed by Netflix was a David Fincher produced series starring two-time Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey called House of Cards. The show first aired in 2013, and when I wrote about the show then, the title of my article was "Series Review of House of Cards and The Start of a New Era of Television." I absolutely loved the first season of the TV show which is why I couldn't stop fawning over it. Now, after three season my personal feelings on the show itself have waffled, but as I reflect upon it more, the more I realize that House of Cards is the most important show of this generation. Whether you enjoy the show or not, there is no denying the importance it has had on our culture thanks to this new and improved ability to consume television programs.

I refuse to believe that the era of traditional television is over. I believe it is dying, but the TV industry is constantly finding medication for itself. The early part of 2015 saw massive hits like FOX's Empire and minor hits like CW's Jane The Virgin and ABC's Fresh Off The Boat. These shows have proven that network and traditional television is very much alive and well. Furthermore, as someone who has became a cord-cutter for a brief period of time, I cannot imagine living out the rest of my days without the ability to flip through channels I don't like in the hopes of landing on something I do.

But maybe I'm too old, naive, and insulated to be making these sorts of claims. Hitfix's Donna Dickens wrote an excellent article examining how her young children watch TV nowadays and the potential negative effect it will have for cable companies. She wrote about how her kids can't even watch commercials without being impatient and bored. One of them even said, "Live TV is awful" and they would just wait for the show to come to Netflix. They couldn't comprehend the concept that if they didn't watch live TV then there would not be a show for Netflix to even air.

I think the first important cultural milestone for Netflix in the world of television came with Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is the greatest television show that has ever existed in the history of mankind, but there was still a huge barrier to entry to get people to actually watch the show. Breaking Bad's first few seasons were not watched by many. However, thanks to word-of-mouth and Emmy nominations (and wins) people were interested in the show and thanks to Netflix people could actually check out the show with ease. The show's creator Vince Gilligan credits Netflix with Breaking Bad's success and higher ratings as the show moved forward. I can personally testify that Netflix is the reason I was able to catch up on the show before I watched Seasons 4 and 5 live.

Netflix's next milestone came with House of Cards. Netflix not only proved its muscle by being able to compete with HBO for the show, but it launched its signature show which helped propel it to a legitimate television network (so to speak). HBO was able to launch and be the success that it is now thank to Oz and The Sopranos. Showtime did it with Dexter, FX did it with The Shield, AMC did it with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and Netflix now did it with House of Cards. Netflix also did something groundbreaking in that it released all 13 episodes of House of Cards at once. Netflix saw how their current subscribers were consuming their product, and matched their own product to their subscribers. What's even scarier for network, cable, and even premium channels is that Netflix's new distribution model is a rousing success. Even HBO has smartly decided to get in on the action.

Thanks to House of Cards (and Netflix's other great and prestigious original show Orange Is The New Black) Netflix is now becoming the new model for television. Their logic is simple and has worked since the proliferation of networks- create a great show that everyone can't stop talking about and make it exclusive to you. Viewers will then become hooked and become loyal to you. Once hooked, you can then treat that viewer to other amazing products you have to offer. This is the strategy that made HBO the cultural juggernaut it is today and the same strategy that is unfortunately killing AMC.

Now that Netflix, a non-traditional TV network, is getting in on the original TV programming racket, other non-traditional networks are trying to get in on it as well. Amazon is not only trying to game the game when it comes to pilot season, but it is trying to get in on the prestige TV action. Its newest show Transparent is one of the most critically awarded shows of 2014 and is hoping the Golden Globe award winning show will do the same for it as House of Cards did for Netflix. Hulu offers original programming (probably) and Yahoo recently picked up NBC's cancelled Community in an attempt to raise awareness for its new originally programming. Surprisingly (at least to me), Netflix's actual biggest rival is YouTube which can barely manage to break even.

Yet as other "networks" are trying to emulate the success of Netflix, the red disc streaming channel is staying one step ahead of them. Obviously the massive budget they had before they started airing original content helps immensely (like, a lot), but Netflix has managed to get subscribers and now they are making sure these subscribers stay. A few months ago Netflix stated they hoped to air 20 new original shows per year, and while that might be hyperbolic (or flat out unrealistic), they certainly seem to be heading in that direction. In 2014, Netflix released 6 original programs (or a new and original season of an already existing show like The Killing) to go along with its 4 original programs (House of Cards, OITNB, Lilyhammer, and Hemlock Grove). And that doesn't include shows that have season that "air" exclusively on Netflix yet didn't air in 2014 like Arrested Development.

In 2015, Netflix plans to release (or have already released) at least 9 new original programming like the NBC reject Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it's superhero shows Daredevil and Marvel's A.K.A. Jessica Jones, the Bill Burr inspired comedy F is for Family, and the Lily Tomlin / Jane Fonda vehicle Grace and Frankie. That's insane, but what's even more incredible is how excited I am for many of these shows. We already live in an era that has too many television shows and I already watch way too much TV as it is, yet I'm still excited for half of the new shows Netflix will make available this year.

What's even better is that Netflix is attracting top tier talent to create their original programming- the same model HBO is following. Beau Willimon wrote the political thriller The Ides of March before House of Cards and Jenji Kohan was the creator of Weeds (which lasted 8 seasons) before she created Orange Is The New Black. Recently, Netflix announced a deal with the director of The Great Gatsby and Romeo + Juliet Baz Luhrmann and the creator of The Shield about a 1970's drama about the explosion of hip hop. I'm sure it's not a coincidence that the geniuses behind 30 Rock (which you can currently stream all 139 episodes on Netflix) Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are the ones behind their soon to be newest hit Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Just like HBO still needs to have massive hits like Game of Thrones to stay afloat years after The Sopranos, Netflix is constantly creating incredible original content which not only adds new subscribers, but keeps the current ones happy.

And speaking of HBO, Netflix may be modeling their original content business model after them, but they've already surpassed them in terms of success. While the library of HBO's original TV shows, documentaries, and new move releases is extensive, it is no match for Netflix. HBO has content specific to HBO, Netflix has everything else. Not only does Netflix have the advantage by being a rental company first and a television producer second which helps their overall product, but it's HBO that's following in Netflix's footsteps with their soon-to-be a la carte product. We'll see what the actual success of this program is, but I personally am not optimistic. HBO's service will literally be double the price of a Netflix subscription while also having the aforementioned limited scope. I'll probably buy HBO GO just so I don't have to watch Game of Thrones the day after it airs, but I also plan on cancelling it after the show ends because that's an outrageous price. I've had Netflix for a handful of years now and I don't plan on canceling it anytime soon.

When people discuss the direction that television is heading, I think what they really mean is the direction that Netflix is heading. Right now, Netflix is dominating streaming services. Amazon Prime is a legitimate competitor, but it still isn't close to what Netflix is. I imagine there are many people like me who are just Netflix loyalists. Plus, Netflix is just a better streaming service than Amazon is. For the past three years I had both Amazon Prime and Netflix because Amazon was dumb enough to give me access to its service for free. The collection on Netflix may not be the greatest, but it's far more expansive and diverse than Amazon. Further, not even the addition of HBO's massive library was enough to turn people into Amazon loyalists. While the critics love Transparent, I don't know a single person or Facebook friend that actually watches the show. Almost all of my Facebook friends watch the "critically-panned" House of Cards.

By being first the the streaming-service-with-original-content game in combination with being aggressive in the amount of original quality programs they have and soon will release, Netflix has set itself up for a monopoly and a leader in the ever-changing world that currently is television. The amount of people growing up without a television is increasing every year which means more and more people are relying on Netflix for their television and entertainment needs. That doesn't include the millions of people like myself that supplement their television experience with Netflix.

Although, this post could be outdated in a few years thanks to the future ability to pick and choose to watch the specific channels you want. So, who knows. But for now, Netflix is king. And all hail the king.



If you would like to comment on this post, please visit our Facebook page