So it may appear that your intrepid morphologist has some kind of personal vendetta against NETFLIX — as if Reid Hastings personally poured sugar into Daddy Collapse’s gas tank — however, in today’s screed, I’m using NETFLIX both as controlling metaphor and symptom of a LARGER ISSUE that threatens to DEVOUR ALL MEDIA. But make no mistake, I do believe NETFLIX is SATAN, and a perfect representative of —
The YAWNING PARADOX at the heart of MEDIA in today’s age, which in short order, is:
The apex of CUTTING EDGE TECHNOLOGY married to the most RETROGRADE, NOSTALGIA-BAITING CONTENT.
For every step forward we take in DISTRIBUTION TECHNIQUES and PRODUCTION, the CONTENT side beats two hasty steps back or stays in a defiant mode of UTTER STASIS. And it’s an EPIDEMIC sweeping across all MEDIA SECTORS, just take a gander at FILM or PUBLISHING.
Hell, let’s stay with PUBLISHING for a SECOND:
AUDIENCES of this SCALE have never EXISTED BEFORE IN DIGITAL MEDIA, and what are they being served: ADS so atrocious you’re willing to PAY TOP DOLLAR TO AVOID THEM existing side-by-side with FACTORY FARM PRODUCT guaranteed to send warm NOSTALGIA TINGLES up your leg (courtesy to Chris Matthews).
And how do BOOKS LOOK?
Well they increasingly resemble a NECROPOLIS, wherein TOP ELECTRONICALLY ENHANCED DISTRIBUTION HYPE is solely expended to the cocktail napkin scribbles of DEAD OR INVALID AUTHORS (Harper Lee, Stieg Larsson, Dr. Seuss) who remind us of OUR CHILDHOOD or when BOOKS WERE JUST BETTER.
But back to NETFLIX and the HEART OF THE METAPHOR…
MEGA-MUTATIONS to LINEAR TELEVISION are imminent. The BUNDLES are being put on a CORD-CUTTING FRIENDLY DIET. MASSIVE DIGITAL ARCHIVES OF CONTENT are just waiting to be BINGE STREAMED at DIRT CHEAP prices VIA ON DEMAND SERVICES. STREAMING (exemplified not only by NETFLIX, but also AMAZON and HULU) is so BIG that it’s going into the CONTENT BUSINESS ITSELF, both to cash in, and to save money on exorbinant LICENSING FEES.
And guess what?
With all this freedom and potential cash at their fingertips — enabled by TECHNOLOGY — STREAMING is coming up with the absolute DREGS of CONTENT (ALMOST EXACTLY like what DIGITAL has done to the ADVERTISING BUSINESS), and forcing the producers of ACTUAL QUALITY TELEVISION into a role as gutless servers of SECOND-ORDER NOSTALGIA. Allow me to elaborate…
DVR, ON-DEMAND, and DVD took a shark-bite out of the appetite for ACTUAL LIVE TV VIEWING (save SPORTS or AWARDS SHOWS); however, NETFLIX delivered the final blow, by inaugurating and hyping THE BINGE.
I don’t think NETFLIX introduced THE BINGE, nor do I think they intended to scramble our brains Riddler-style with it; they merely needed to STAY ALIVE and radically differentiate themselves from LINEAR TV (ironically because LINEAR TV forced them into a defensive crouch by pulling reams of their CONTENT, and charging upwards of $3 BILLION in LICENSING FEES). And the ramifications have been enormous.
BINGE VIEWERS are a fickle, persnickety, and most of all, DEPRESSED bunch, just check these STATS.
And what makes DEPRESSED PEOPLE feel better?
THE KNOWN. NOSTALGIA (FULLER HOUSE, WET-HOT AMERICAN SUMMER). Ersatz emotion and a retreat to infantile tendencies (DAREDEVIL, LEMONY SNICKET).
You can’t be risky with these folks, they’ll STOP WATCHING.
And NETFLIX can’t have people STOP WATCHING. It isn’t SUPPORTED BY ADS, and doesn’t have A CORPORATE SPONSOR or CABLE COMPANY to help them hedge RISK. Occasionally, NETFLIX may pick up a DECENT SHOW (Orange Is The New Black, Bloodline, or House of Cards); however, it’s usually BECAUSE A NETWORK PASSED ON IT, and NETFLIX swooped in with CASH. But let me be even more EXPLICIT:
NETFLIX isn’t DEVELOPING QUALITY PRODUCT. The SUPERIOR SHOW has usually been DEVELOPED by a TV NETWORK that can afford the expensive DEVELOPMENT process, and then chose TO PASS.
Now you may choose to counter and say:
Well even though STREAMING isn’t producing the same quality as LINEAR TV, I’ll just watch my GOOD LINEAR TV when it comes to STREAMING.
Ahhhh, but you won’t. Because it WON’T EXIST…
Since the AD MARKET has fallen out of LIVE TELEVISION (save for SPORTS), and CORD-CUTTING is rampant, TV NETWORKS are becoming RISK AVERSE (and I can’t exactly blame them), because they’re relying on recouping their diminishing manna by DIGITAL LICENSING RIGHTS. And what’s going to make you the most cash? Shows that are BINGABLE. And BINGABLE SHOWS need to be either NOSTALGIC or NARRATIVELY STRUCTURED to ensure the BINGERS don’t BAIL.
And as I’ve said before, what types of NARRATIVES LEND THEMSELVES TO BINGE: ANTHOLOGY and SERIALS.
Or REBOOTS. Because BINGERS are always LIKELY to give NOSTALGIA A SHOT. They may not STICK WITH IT — in fact, STATISTICALLY REBOOTS aren’t more successful — but they’re at least more likely to give it a college try.
THIS IS THE HOLLYWOOD MODEL, by the way.
So in short order —
You can say au revoir to your MAD MEN, your BREAKING BAD, your SOPRANOS, your beloved WIRE.
But Master Collapse, you’ll say:
Didn’t NETFLIX and BINGE save MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD. In a certain sense, SURE.
But on the other hand, they’re not likely to be produced again, because they’re not BINGE-PROOF. They were created PRE-BINGE. Also, due to CORD-CUTTING, AMC may never be able to take RISKS like those shows again, because it won’t be protected by a BIG CABLE BUNDLE to defray costs if an experiment goes AWRY.
It’s just like FILM.
FILMS aren’t CREATED for the ONE-TIME VIEWING EXPERIENCE anymore. They are engineered from the ground-up to serve ancillary markets for the CORPORATION, and keep on granular grossing far into the future.
ENTERTAINMENT can’t focus on its job, which is to ENTERTAIN. The entire programatic slate has to EXIST PURELY FOR THE FUTURE (DIGITAL, UNBUNDLED, groping after FOREIGN RIGHTS).
And that’s the GREAT IRONY:
MASSIVE TECHNOLOGICAL ACHIEVEMENT to ENSURE YOU CAN KEEP BEING SERVED THE PAST in an increasingly RETROGRADE FASHION…