By Matt Triay
Netflix over a short period of time, in my opinion, has become a ubiquitous feature of life, much in the same way N’golo Kante is on a football pitch. I can’t really remember not having Netflix; it slotted into my life rather subtly whilst also being incredibly hard to ignore, their rise coining the common phrase ‘Netflix and Chill’. You don’t hear your partner saying ‘Prime time babe?’ – having said that I do enjoy verb-ing nouns on the odd occasion, ‘Beer me, please’.
The TV giants went from 21.5 million subscribers in 2011 to a whopping 158 million in 2019. Founded in 1997 originally making their bread on dvd rentals via mail delivery, it was not until 2010 that they started their streaming service alongside their dvd rental business, Lilyhammer was the first ever series on the site. Since 2012 Netflix can best be described as distributers and producers with their Netflix Originals coming to life and by 2016 Netflix were in 160 countries.
So it is safe to say that Netflix over the last decade have become a pretty big deal. Yet there is something I came across that surprised me, and this is the 12.4 billion dollars in long term debt and 20 billion in short and long term debt. This number made it to numerous headlines, however the co-founder Reed Hastings argues that the actual number is way less whilst further explaining the reason behind the debt. He mentions Disney, who are in and around the 50 billion mark in terms of debt, both businesses take money from bond sales to investors to make new content. The reason they continue to take more money out is because the model of their business suggests movies and series made now will pay off their debts over time, in 10-15 years the Netflix Originals of today will cover these loans. Reed Hastings “expects to be free cash flow negative for many years” and will continue to use money to produce Netflix content in confidence. Interesting stuff!
My thoughts originally…
Series have become more popular than film, a series requires a serious investment of ones time and with the accessibility of Netflix any time, anywhere, any device (ATAWAD) it is easy to invest this time, how does this affect the culture of watching TV? More on this later. My initial thought regarding Netflix was how much I began using it to feed an emotion I desired. I began to care less and less about the actors, the directors or writers. Netflix makes it so easy; I do less of what I used to do, which is spend time researching a film, the people who made it etc. before I indulge.
Accessibility of series allows for binge watching of series, many of which are short with a lot happening in an episode; the story unravels quickly which is satisfying. However the culmination of a story is left until the final episode, possibly even the final 20 minutes of the last episode of series 15 and so one keeps on watching until they get there (which for me makes it all the more anti-climatic) it is highly addictive. I prefer films – ‘Netflix has plenty of films’ – true but they are they not the movies I want to watch, they are what’s ‘in’ anyways this is not my focus.
So, why do we love Netflix?
Well a first mention must be the money spent, for a very small fee you have access to a whole host of movies and television series. For a family to sit in front of the telly and enjoy quality time together is great and can really bring them closer. The creatives see the positives too. With scheduled TV there are adverts and time slots so shows are made for specific time frames; Netflix stories can unravel more organically as they don’t follow these rules. Adverts also have a say in how the show is made, with Netflix there is no need to appease the advertisers to fund content. Netflix has allowed for some really cool shows to surface, they have belief in ideas and the creatives that come to them so that is great for the industry too.
That sounds like addiction to me.
The average time of people watching TV in America is 5 hours – what do you call that, normal? I found an interesting study in the Journal of Business Research (can not believe my research skills from Uni are coming into play), 21 in-depth interviews with young adults (aged 21-33) entitled “Understanding merging adults’ consumption of TV series in the digital age”. The study had two main findings: a lack of structure to watching TV had negative effects such as binge watching and many felt this was an uncontrollable addiction. Secondly a loss of social interaction; due to the nature of consumption, people have their own TV schedule which takes away the social aspect of discussing as series. This paper suggests Netflix could create specific platforms only accessible for the episodes that users have already watched, maybe a chatroom. The radio times called Netflix an addiction, and can have negative aspects on health, being glued to the sofa and all, late nights, lack of sleep and even avoiding responsibilities. That sounds like addiction to me.
So I guess Netflix is like many other platforms of today; accessibility seems to be the common theme. It is easy to turn to your phone and Instagram, to smash 3 hours on the PlayStation, and like everything else it is up to you to control yourself.
Things will continue to become more accessible, so being able to control addictions and managing your time will only get more difficult. Will watching TV develop into a more social event like it once was, or will it continue to become more personalised? This is my wonder.