Streaming Media: Video on Demand and Netflix

The consumption of media content has changed most drastically over the years as new technologies have enabled the user to exercise a greater amount of control in how they find, exhibit and pay for their viewing experiences. It is easier to see the benefits of video on demand services, which enable the users to watch what they want when they want to watch it. However, greater attention must be paid towards the way in which it is affecting the creative process of media content and, even still, the viewers’ habits.

VOD services separate the media content from a traditionally specific time at which public viewing would occur. If there is no regimented process to how we should consume content then we are free to view it whenever and wherever we want. Additionally, if common practice is to watch films or TV shows on our own time then the industry will choose a production model that fits the consumer. The concept of binge watching is a new phenomenon where individuals consume either a show or movies in mass quantities (the term mainly applies to TV shows but it is applicable). This begs the question of what is lost in adapting this new behavior? Constant consumption begets creating fast, cheap content where different companies compete to have content that is ready for streaming either during its initial run or after.

VOD services also change where people consume media content and through which devices. When you can consume content on your own time it becomes a solitary act in which finding time to watch it with others becomes trivialized. Family and friends down have to sit down together to watch shows and communal viewing is on the decline. This becomes problematic for the film industry to turn a profit in exhibition when their viewers are finding alternative ways to watch content.   In the book Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access, author Wheeler Winston Dixon explores the affects that digital streaming capabilities and technologies have on existing media models, finding that:

“What keeps the theaters open is the exclusivity factor and the studios’ reluctance—which seems to be crumbling—to embrace VOD or streaming as the launch platform for new releases. Right now, streaming is still limited to cinema’s past, to existing libraries that are being newly exploited for maximum profit potential.” (Dixon 69).

There exists this culture of wanting content as soon as it is released so consumers find ways to deal with having to wait. For some its consuming content like it through other services as filler till what they want to see comes out. Others will resort to finding illegal downloading and streaming content online.

Netflix is one of the most popular streaming websites offering media content to its subscribers. Users are able to choose what they want to watch and are given suggestions based on things they have already viewed and things they have rated. Aside from its archive of content by genre, suggesting what to watch to its viewers was its flagship affordance. One issue to note however is the affect on viewing habits that the suggestion system has. When the user gets to their homepage they are provided with a list of show sand films that would be of interests to them and the popular section. This affects what is popular on Netflix by pushing those shows that are widely recognizable either because of their off-Netflix run, their stars’ power, or the production value. What is left behind and unwatched are shows that aren’t mainstream but potentially ripe with artistic quality. One can argue that some films that appeal to fringe audiences or non mainstream audiences have a home on Netflix but as it becomes more popular it will begin to replicate the offline relationship of multiplexes and art-house cinemas online.

In her article addressing the recent addition of profiles to Netflix, Zoe Chaves states that:

“The company’s most valuable asset is that it has a really keen idea of who is watching what and what else. Netflix openly uses our viewing data to craft original series that people are crazy about, like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, and to recommend content that users are likely to watch and enjoy; approximately 75 percent of content viewed on Netflix was recommended to the viewer by the recommendation engine, according to an interview with Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt.”

I am a fan of House of Cards and I am glad that the show was created and to state for the record I am not against Netflix using their data to create shows and better match me up with shows that I may like. The issue is that the majority of the content that is viewed is content that has been suggested to the viewer. Much like the argument that Dixon makes about loosing classic films to history because they may not appeal to audiences, we will lose films to the digital wasteland because they are inadequately marketed to their audience.

Chaves, Zoe, “Can I Share my Netflix Account?” Huffington Post. 12 Dec. 2013. Web. 7 Dec 2013. 

Dixon, Wheeler. Streaming: Movies, Media, and Instant Access.: The University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Print.

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