Streaming services are the new norm: whether it is music, movies, or TV shows, on demand content is steadily transforming our media consumption habits. No platform is this more apparent than the instigator of countless late-night marathons of Breaking Bad or House of Cards: Netflix.
The big N started out as a mail-order DVD rental business in 1998, and as Internet speed grew rapidly to accommodate video streaming, it shifted to subscription video-on-demand (SVOD). Netflix now charges monthly subscriptions for access to its massive library of licensed movies and TV shows, and their famed original content. Netflix now has a $41-billion market value and 93 million subscribers worldwide.
How Netflix became such a media distribution giant is closely linked to how it changed the way we consumed media. Terms like ‘cord-cutting’ – referring to dropping cable TV services for internet-streamed ones – are born from this change. More importantly, what are the implications of this shift in our couch-surfing habits?
Snipping the cable
Traditional TV viewing consisted of a fixed, weekly schedule for programs, a practice that has existed as long as the concept of serialization has. The audience invests time to sit down at a particular hour to tune in to their favorite show, wait for a week, and watch again in that time slot. Depending on the show, a standard ‘season’ can run anywhere from four to six months.
The Netflix model scraps that entire practice and releases shows (especially their originals) by whole seasons. No waiting, no fuss – just open your Netflix app on a smartphone, laptop or desktop, and start watching. The only limit to your viewing extravaganza is how many hours of sleep you are willing to give up on a given night.
The binge-watching phenomenon happened mostly because Netflix made it possible. Audiences no longer feel bound by a rigid weekly schedule for their new favorite series. Everything is just a tap/click away.
Does this spell the end for traditional TV? Not by a long shot, but examining the patterns of media viewing in recent years show that digital services are making significant inroads into the market previously dominated by cable channels. In fact, those same channels are now adapting to this trend by offering streaming services of their own.
It helps that Netflix’s original lineup of programs such as Marvel’s Daredevil and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are quality stuff. Binge watching these shows never feel like a chore, thanks to their well-written plots and gripping performances by star-studded casting. These programs have mastered the art of cliffhangers, and there is no better motivation to finish an entire 12-episode season than fulfilling the burning curiosity of “what happens next?”
Also, no commercial breaks interrupt the viewing experience, but shows can be paused anytime for bathroom breaks and life in general.
Some people have pointed out that this on demand scheme of distribution makes it hard to measure a show’s ratings. Netflix assures consumers that their analytics do a thorough job of monitoring a user’s viewing habits and patterns, and use it to formulate what type of programming they can develop next.
Freed from the couch
Most significantly, streaming affords people the liberty of watching their beloved shows anywhere. The mobile nature of SVOD means no TV set is required, just the screen you have with you. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops are increasingly becoming the media devices of choice for people too busy or tired to plop down in the living room to watch TV.
Paused an episode of Narcos during lunch break at work? Pick up where you left off on the train ride home, no problem. You can even sneak in an extra session while sitting in the toilet before bedtime.
In short, SVOD frees people from the physical constrictions of the living room for enjoying media. Of course, that will not stop anyone from bingeing right in the comfort of a couch.
Media consumption in the internet age will inevitably usher innovations. Netflix only demonstrates that pushing the envelope is only feasible when industries are willing to take risks. TV is not going anywhere anytime soon, as there is still no comparable alternative to a big-screen experience (except cinema). Nevertheless, the disruptive force on the industry by players like Netflix prompts media companies to re-think their strategies on better content distribution.