Has Netflix changed how we watch TV and movies? Well, gone are the days, mostly, where we had to wait a week for our favourite shows; and where we would memorise the TV guide (or was that just me?). And definitely gone are the days where you had to rush back from the bathroom, so you don’t miss even a second of the latest episode of Doctor Who (other popular primetime shows are available).
Some shows do still air weekly, but, even then, it’s becoming more and more common for them to simultaneously do that and make all the episodes available on their respective streaming – or “catch up” – services (such as BBC iPlayer or 4od). They still give you the chance to watch it whenever you like, instead of being forced to watch it at a specific time and date – which is how it always was. My question is: Are you “catching up” if you’re watching episodes that haven’t been released? Or are you catching ahead (whatever that means)? The success of weekly released TV shows (such as WandaVision and The Mandalorian to name two) is because 1: they are phenomenal shows; and 2: because we are becoming so used to binge watching that watching it weekly is not laboured by being the standard norm. It’s also important to note both of those shows were released on a streaming service – so maybe they see a balance is the key.
Streaming services mean people have ready access to a library of films. Before, if a classic, must-see movie was on TV, for all you knew that could have been the last time they would air it. But, with streaming services, you don’t need to rush. In fact, you can take your sweet time, you can watch as many other movies and TV shows first and it will probably still be there for you afterwards. The algorithm waiting, tempting, seducing you to watch it.
But – the important question is – is it a good thing or a bad thing? I personally love it. I have discovered TV shows and films I never would have watched if it wasn’t for Netflix and other streaming services. They serve the function of a library, where films and TV can be preserved and watched by future generations.
An interesting change could be a blurring of the lines of popular culture between generations. Every generation has their own catalogue of shows they relate to the most (because they watched them during their childhood; and nostalgia is a powerful drug). But, with steaming services, it’s not guaranteed people will watch the shows of their generations, they now have access to shows previous generations did. Children in the 90s and 80s effectively had to watch the shows of those decades. But kids now don’t have to watch shows from the decades they were raised on. They could choose to watch the shows that the 80s and 90s kids watch. Or even further back. What, then, does that mean for the zeitgeist?
If they don’t watch the same shows they can’t share the same experiences; will that lead to a disenfranchisement in the newer generations? Will they not feel as connected to each other as previous generations have?
Perhaps it will lead to a strengthening of inter-generation connections. Only time will tell if streaming services are a new bastion of watching content. Or, as with most things, the different services will get too entrenched in competition and their fate will go the same way as cable in America (it already kind of has what with the plethora of streaming services now available).
Netflix’s influence is undeniable; we just don’t watch TV shows the same way. And based on Netflix’s foray into making award worthy films, they may change the fundamental nature of how we watch the best films as well.
In conclusion, Netflix’s dominance and influence is obvious, but only time will hold the answer as to whether they will become everyone’s preferred choice as their AI enhanced algorithm is superior to everyone in some Black Mirror-esque world; or if they eventually take over the world and force us to watch every episode of Friends on repeat. The power is literally… In your hands.