For the last 24 months I have been paying the minimal fee for Netflix to be available on just about every device I own.
In that time I have discovered some good shows that I have missed from not being a TV watcher like Modern Family, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and of course the grand finale of Breaking Bad.
I’ve been able to revisit The West Wing, give Dexter another try, re-watched Sliders, Battlestar Galactica and with millions of others worldwide became a slave to Netflix exclusive House of Cards for all of 5 days.
Combining this with my occasional dabble into truly bad films, the likes of which you would have found in a VHS bin at a gas station, Netflix has been quite the winning formula (providing you have the savvy to use a US proxy, the UK licensing is somewhat lacking still). But this formula is now becoming diluted to the point where I can’t work out if it is orange squash or tropical punch.
As has been discussed at length by a number of respectable industry types, Netflix is moving to become the future of TV over the desire to be the future of VoD (video on demand). The audacity of Netflix with their future strategy is nothing short of ground breaking. Within a few years of their streaming existence they have aided in getting the major league players into rethink their licensing, and begin to accept that OTA (over the air) broadcasting is going the way of the Dodo, with this evolutionary shift escalated by our change in viewing behaviour – we want to watch when we want to watch.
It hasn’t been the huge success that Netflix wanted at the start. Instead, we have continued and if anything extended the fragmentation of TV entertainment with every network wanting their own Netflix. We had a similar issue in the UK when the BBC released the over-hyped iPlayer. Great for BBC who have the monopoly and therefore an application which spans a gamut of TV and Radio services, but for ITV to have their own? Only so much 60 Minute Makeover any one person can watch surely?
Unfortunately, where there might have been an opportunity for Netflix to guide the networks towards the light of the future, instead they have become a rival channel with the likes of Fox and HBO setting up shop themselves whilst others like ABC have seen the opportunity to increase distribution by trickling titles out on the platform. But for us, the consumers, we now have a hybrid that we didn’t originally want. Instead of a service for getting all our viewing needs in one place, without needing to be in at 9pm on a Thursday, we have just another channel and it’s still not showing the stuff we didn’t want to pay extra for but may want to have watched. The only thing missing is a schedule and a channel number… or at least it was until November 2013 when Netflix became available as a channel through Virgin Media in the UK along with NBCUniversal’s Picture Box, an interesting on demand service which plays on scarcity, titles are only available for a set time in the same way as most on-demand services operate.
The problem for me is that on the whole, I hate Television. The lyrics from Nobody Home by Pink Floyd spring to mind. “..I got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from”, Only now we have one channel with 35,000 titles of shit to choose from. For every House of Cards there are 1,000s of “reality” shows. Kitchen Nightmares, Undercover Boss, Sons of Guns, Gold Rush, Myth Busters, American Chopper, all titles which are on constant rotation on broadcast networks designed to pad airtime around advertisement slots. The only difference is the type of bandwidth, replacing airwaves with data cables and I wouldn’t be worried to place a bet on autoplay becoming a feature for Netflix within the next 12 months either. It’ll just become another ambient stream which doesn’t require your interaction in order to fill your house with white noise.
Whilst Netflix has begun investing in its own programming; the disastrous reboot of the sleeper hit Arrested Development, the ludicrous and somewhat dismal Lillehammer and the award winning House of Cards, due to start its second season this week, it is loosing hundreds of licences every month. You could be mistaken for thinking this is down to some savvy thinking, cutting out the cruft that nobody watches based on intelligent design or based on viewing figures but you’d be wrong.
At £4.99 in the month (based on price in UK), Netflix simply cannot afford premium licences. The Avengers (the third highest grossing moving of all time) virtually blew their spending to get it onboard and it wont be staying there very long either. In January 2014 it was disclosed that there were over 300 titles not being renewed, although what they were, we probably wont get an accurate idea of.
As for basing anything on viewing figures, the recommendation engine Netflix started with has long been replaced with a well controlled influence engine meaning you are no longer being served up content that you might want to see. In fact, if you still use the Silverlight crippled browser version and rate titles – those ratings are doing nothing to what you get served up one iota. No, Instead you’re being prescribed what you should be watching – just like broadcast television already does to you, exactly what you were trying to get away from.
Furthermore, the user interface is designed to showcase certain ‘premium’ titles whilst others live behind some curtain somewhere on dusty shelves in the back intended not to be found. Search by genre and you will not see every title available within that genre. You may be able to stumble across a few more not listed on the panel by looking at the related titles in the preview panel of a title, and as for the genre tagging system, well that was gamed from the start to ensure there was an appearance of volume in the library. Every user will have seen at least one title which somehow has fit into every category available.
As Netflix has begun to transition in the last 6 months you may have noticed more and more TV shows being bulk uploaded each week. Axed titles like Life and Doll House, cinematic flops like John Carter and Jack Reacher and self-funded propaganda documentaries like Hank, and Mitt. Netflix, just like all television broadcast networks is going for quantity over quality, and whilst that has it’s place, even for £4.99 a month, it wont have a place in my living room, bedroom, bathroom or office for much longer.