Netflix and the Future of TV
Television culture is changing before our very eyes, as traditional TV networks compete with online downloads and streaming services. Media streaming service, Netflix, continues to lead the way, with the US giant recently announcing record earnings for the first quarter of 2014. While the Internet has long been used for the distribution of existing TV material, Netflix and other providers are going one step further by producing their own exclusive content.
Netflix has 35.7 million US members, with 2.25 million subscribers added during the first quarter of this year. This huge growth translates to a 24 percent rise in revenue during the quarter, with $2.7 million a year ago growing to $53 million today, a twenty-fold jump. With overall revenue now sitting at $1.3 billion, traditional TV network executives are definitely starting to sweat.
Much of this growth can be attributed to the extremely popular political drama 'House of Cards', a Netflix exclusive series starring Kevin Spacey as a ruthless politician. While seeing such an acclaimed actor on the small screen is big news in itself, the really novel thing about 'House of Cards' is how it successfully challenges the pre-existing norms of TV distribution.
For a long time now, the television industry has been controlled by a few select networks, who not only had control over what people watched but when. In contrast, downloaded and streamed content allows TV viewers to consume media on their own terms, whether that means watching their favourite show at 1AM in the morning or watching an entire series night after night. This practice is known as "binge-watching", with entire seasons of 'House of Cards' and other web shows made available at once.
According to Matt Locke, director of the cross-platform media company Story Things in an interview with Aljazeera, "What we’re seeing actually is the breakup around traditional broadcasting models around genres as much as anything else... You used to have to plan around a TV broadcasters schedule because that was the only way to reach millions of people." 'House of Cards' is a game changer because it reaches huge numbers of people in the US without any network involvement.
TV broadcasting and distribution models are finally catching up with technology, with heavyweights like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Apple leading the way. While many of these online media services are not available in Australian and New Zealand, there are ways to tunnel these services through a proxy service if you don't mind traversing a legal grey area. Quickflix is the direct Australian alternative to Netflix, although it is more expensive and less comprehensive than its US cousin.
While Aussies and Kiwis might not have access to Netflix, TV consumption patterns continue to change here as everywhere else. For example, traditional television networks are increasingly offering demand services, so viewers can watch their favourite shows through the Internet on their own schedule. YouTube and iTunes are also a huge source of media for many people, as viewers increasingly make the choice to watch TV on their own terms.