Over 20 years, Netflix has becomethe world’s most popular entertainment company. It initially started as a DVD rentalcompany, but now produces their own original programmes for their 109 millionsubscribers1.
When they began producing the original TV shows, they would release all theepisodes at once. This is part of the new media technology (NMT) revolution,where the audience no longer have to wait for a new episode weekly. As aresult, this created a ‘binge-watching’ culture. Binge-watching is when theaudience watch a TV show over a long period of time, typically within onesitting. According to Deloitte’s survey, they found that 70% of 2,200 USaudience members binge-watched an average of 5 episodes in one sitting2.
They also found that 35% of millennials would do that on a regular basis. In myessay, I will be researching how Netflix original shows are seen as’binge-worthy’ and how it’s changed the way the audience view programmes with aclose look at some of the most popular Netflix original shows – ‘House ofCards’ and ‘Stranger Things’. Netflix was co-founded by ReedHastings and Marc Randolph in 19971.
The entertainment company began to develop quite rapidly as soon as it started.In 2000, Netflix introduced a personalised movie recommendation system. This usedthe user’s ratings to help accurately suggest choices for the user1. In 2007, the entertainment companyintroduced streaming, which allowed subscribers to watch shows and moviesinstantly on their computer1.
Thisbegan the digital shift that changed the way audiences consumed media. By 2010,Netflix could be easily streamed on any digital device, from Xbox to TV set-topboxes to Apple devices1. Shapiro arguedthat this was the radical shift of who is in control of the media. This allowedaudience to have the choice to instantly watch whatever they want whenever theywant, which created the start of the binge-watching culture.
Binge-watching is a culturalphenomenon that has only begun to have a real impact in today’s modern society.Some argue binge-watching slowly began when DVDs came out3.However, the definite beginning was when Netflix allowed 3 critically-acclaimedTV shows to be streamed3. These wereMad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. As these shows got popular, new audiences wouldwatch the old seasons to catch up and this is how it began to enforce abinge-watching culture. In February 2013, Netflix decided that instead ofallowing the audience to binge-watch old seasons of a TV show, they should beable to binge-watch new and current seasons as well3.
Netflix decided to go against typical TVconventions and release the entire first season of “House Of Cards”. Thisresulted in a lot of media attention and made viewers realise how satisfying itis to have full control over their own viewing experience3. This further supports the concept that theaudience have more control over the media they consume than ever before. ‘House of Cards’ is a Netflix originalshow that was released on 1st February 2013. There is also intertextuality with theBritish version, as Netflix was inspired by that mini-series. The show is abouthow Francis Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) takes the audience on a journey wherehe slowly gets revenge from those who wronged him like the cabinet members andthe President. With his wife, Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright), theytake over Washington and try to climb the political ladder to gain lots ofpower4.
Theshow has won 2 Golden Globe awards and many Emmys5. When analysing the trailer for’House of Cards’, I found that it starts off quite calm and slow withnon-diegetic music used to create a build up, the phrase ‘Netflix OriginalSeries’ fades on screen. This tells the audience that Netflix created thiscontent and it’s not been distributed anywhere else. It then cuts to the clipsof the show. However, at the beginning the main character, Frank Underwood, isspeaking directly to the audience. This show is already breaking the 4thwall only a few seconds in and giving the audience a lot of attention, whichmakes them feel like they’re part of the show and that they know this charactervery well. Not only is Netflix changing the way audiences consume media;they’re also changing the way stories are told on TV.
Throughout the trailer,we see how the President has betrayed Frank Underwood and as a result a seriesof consequences occur damaging the reputations of those that wronged FrankUnderwood. This is implied as there are many scenes where bad things arehappening, for example there is a brief mid-shot of civilians protestingoutside a politician party. Another important scene is when Frank says toKathy, “Get ready Kathy. Things are going to move very quickly.” This suggeststo the audience that Frank may have done something slightly illegal. The focusthen briefly moves to Zoe Barnes, a reporter who is suggested to be workingwith Frank Underwood illegally publishing news articles that benefit him. Thetrailer than has a mini-montage of what’s come to next and the title sequenceof the show is played at the same time to reveal the title of the show.
Throughout the trailer, there are cold hues in some scenes and slight low-keylighting, suggesting to the audience that this is actually quite a dark show.There are many different shots with high angles and low angles, suggesting whohas power in the show and how people use this power. Some theorists argue that this showmay appeal to a wide audience, as it’s exploiting what big politicians may bedoing behind closed doors. It gives an insight to what could be happening inthe White House and makes the audience feel in power for knowing this. The Usesand Gratification theory argues that the reason why ‘House of Cards’ is sosuccessful may be due to the audience consuming the media text as a form ofescapism.
Feminists argues that the show lacks representation of femalecharacters, as the story is told by a man and the trailer implies that he’s theone that is causing all the controversy in the White House. However, othersargue that the show portrays many women in power such as, Claire Underwood. Thetrailer implies that both Claire and Frank work equally to gain politicalpower. This can appeal to a female audience, as it gives them a role model tolook up to and aspire to be enforcing empowerment within women. This suggeststhat the reason why Netflix are known for producing the most successful ‘BingeTV’ is because; their TV shows appeal to a wide global audience of 56.48million international subscribers6.Also, it allows the audience to develop a rapport with the characters of theshow, thanks to binge-watching. At the Edinburgh televisionfestival, Kevin Spacey made a speech discussing how ‘House Of Cards’ being releasedin full proves that audiences want greater control on the way they consumemedia texts7.
In his speech he says, “the success of the Netflix model releasing the entireseason of House of Cards proved one thing, the audience want the control, theywant the freedom.” He argues that if media institutions give the audience whatthey want, when they want it and in the format they want it in, they are lesslikely to obtain the media product illegally6.This is why Netflix are so successful at producing ‘Binge TV’ shows, as Shapiroargues, “the emergence of new digital technology signals a radical shift of whois in control of information.
” This means that audiences are more in control ofthe media and Netflix knows that and taps into that feeling of power. An article written by ItProPortaltitled, ‘How original content has been the secret of Netflix’ success’discusses why Netflix has been more successful than other streaming companiessuch as Amazon Prime. They found that Amazon Prime subscribers would be morelikely to watch Netflix than the Amazon service8.They discuss that the reason why Netflix original shows are so successful isbecause Netflix knows what the audience are watching7. It allows Netflix to produce highlyspecific genre titles due to collecting a lot of detailed data from theiraudience. The VP of Product at Netflix says their goal was to “tear contentapart” with tags for genres, characterisations, etc. The data collected fromusers was initially used to improve Netflix’s recommendations system, but sincethen it’s been used for original content7.This suggests that the reason why Netflix are known for producing the mostsuccessful ‘Binge TV’ show is due to collecting data on their audiences andtailoring their media texts for them.
However, some media theorists argue, thatin reality audiences don’t have as much control as they think they do. This isbecause big media companies such as, Netflix, collect data from their users totailor certain media products to their audience. Another example of a Netflixoriginal programme that has helped enforce a ‘binge-watching’ culture isStranger Things. Stranger Things was released on 15th July 2016. Theshow is about a sudden disappearance of a young boy named Will Byers (played byNoah Schnapp) and an investigation is launched to find the boy. During thisinvestigation, other secrets are revealed like government experimenting,supernatural forces and a mystery girl9.Stranger Things has been nominated for a Golden Globe award and has won manymore awards including an Emmy10. When analysing the trailer, I foundthat it begins with a close-up of an old stereo that begins to play.
As soon asthe first note plays, the Netflix logo appears, suggesting to the audience itis a Netflix original. After that there are a series of long shots oflocations, this is to set the scene and give the audience an idea of what thetown’s life is like. While these scenes occur, non-diegetic calming music playsin the background. This gives the audience a sense of serenity and enforces theidea that this town is quite normal. As the trailer continues, the non-diegeticmusic starts to become contrapuntal due to the scenes slowly creating a senseof tension and enigma. Later on in thetrailer, the mood begins to change and the non-diegetic music starts to createa sense of tension and suspense. The colour gradient of the clips becomedarker, implying to the audience that this isn’t the happy town they expectedat the beginning.
The music begins to get louder and the tension starts toincrease, but it then cuts back to a normal conversation between 2 characters.This leaves the audience on edge as they don’t know what is about to occur. Inthe conversation between the 2 characters, they are discussing about childrengoing missing.
It then cuts back to a scene in which, a light bulb brightensand then the young boy is kidnapped. This helps establish what the narrative ofthe show is for the audience. After that, there a series of clips of peopletrying to search for the boy. Near the end of the trailer, a new character isintroduced and it’s heavily implied there are scientists looking for her. Thiscreates a sense of enigma and makes the audience want to watch the show to findout what’s going to happen.
The Uses and Gratification theoryjustifies the popularity of the show, as audiences watch this fictional TV showas a form of escapism. Theorists believe that the show is so popular becauseit’s exposing government secrets. It also makes the audience have satisfactionwhen they witness justice given to the corrupt government. The liberalpluralist view argues that the show is so successful as the audience are activeconsumers, because they have chance to binge-watch as many as episodes as theywant. Like Shapiro said, the success of Netflix is due to the audience havingmore control over the media than ever before. There was an article published byNewStatesman titled, ‘Stranger Things shows just how much Netflix has transformedTV’ discusses how the new season of Stranger Things was not that popular lastyear, but this year has been heavily promoted by Netflix11.This was because the first season was only promoted by the audience throughword-of-mouth.
The article further says that the success of the Duffer Brothersto have the funding and creative freedom is thanks to Netflix’s business model10. The difference between Netflix andtraditional broadcasters is that Netflix don’t care about bringing in bigaudiences to please advertisers10. Theycare about whether or not the audience love it enough to take out/renew asubscription10.
This shows that Netflixis known for producing the most successful ‘Binge TV’ shows, as it appeals tothe audience’s interests to help it be financially successful. The impact of Netflix’s originalprograms has been very beneficial in the financial growth of the company. Notonly has it increased how many subscribers they get, but also their totalrevenue.
As of the first quarter of 2013, the media industries total revenuewas just over $1 billion12.This shows how Netflix’ creative freedom is seen as a good business, as it wasfound that there was $100 million distributed on original content9. Overall, it seems that there is notone definitive reason as to why Netflix are known for producing the mostsuccessful ‘Binge TV’ shows. This is because there are multiple explanationsfor it. One being that due to NMT, audiences now has power over how theyconsume media texts. Neale’s genre theory reinforces this point by arguing thatHollywood only produces generic films that appeal to the audience. Anotherexplanation is that Netflix collects lots of data from the audience to find outwhat they like/dislike and tailor media texts towards the audiences’ needs.This gives the audience the false assumption that they control what mediaindustries produce, when in reality that isn’t the case.
However, the strongestargument seems to be that the media company and the audience have a symbioticrelationship that allows them to get what they want. The audience are able to decide theway they want to consume media texts and how they can consume it. For example,binge-watching. However, for audiences to binge-watch shows and to findentertaining shows to binge-watch, media industries like Netflix, must allowthat to happen. This is done by releasing original shows in its entire seasonrather than releasing it weekly.
The future of original content on Netflix isever-growing with a wide variety of genres and stories, as there have alreadyreleased 14 original TV shows as of 20158.It shows how Netflix’ focus has moved from releasing films to original contentas they began to gain more and more subscribers. This is evident as Netflix areplanning to spend $6 billion on original content in 201713. In an early 2014 earnings conference call,Sarando said that original content is “going to continue to grow. It’s beenquite successful for us…in terms of viewing economics and in terms of brandenhancement and marketing.
“12 Thisshows that original content is something Netflix will continue to look after andexpand. 1 https://media.netflix.com/en/about-netflix2 https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/press-releases/digital-democracy-survey-tenth-edition.html3 http://www.videonuze.com/content/view/187114 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856010/5 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856010/awards?ref_=tt_awd6 https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/netflix_statistics-facts/7 https://www.theguardian.com/culture/video/2013/aug/23/kevin-spacey-future-television-edinburgh-video8 https://www.itproportal.com/2015/04/12/netflix-shows-original-content-king-again-again/9 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4574334/10 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4574334/awards?ref_=tt_awd11 https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2017/10/stranger-things-shows-just-how-much-netflix-has-transformed-tv12http://dspace.nelson.usf.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10806/11681/Cook_ARP.pdf?sequence=113 https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/netflix_statistics-facts/