Is Netflix Television: an exploration of Netflix’s future original content and release model

House of Cards refers to itself as television in its opening sequence

House of Cards refers to itself as television in its opening sequence.

My initial question upon starting this blog was just what exactly is contemporary television? More programming is moving to streaming services exclusively, with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Yahoo Screen all creating original content that follows television standards and traditions, but can solely be found on the internet. Two of Netflix’s original programs, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, were nominated and competed against traditional televisions shows in various Emmy categories last year.

I’m not the first to ask what television is defined as in our modern media era. Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall says in his House of Cards Pilot review that Netflix’s choice to release the entirety of the first season at once is “an attempt to reinvent the way we watch television — if we’re even technically considering this to be “television” at all.”

Netflix’s has obtained a large audience, with 50.1 million subscribers according to the Huffington Post. This expansive viewership comes from it’s diversity of quality content, ease of accessibility and even it’s auto-play next episode feature, which can make it hard to stop watching.

Netflix has been on the forefront of creating new content for an online viewership, and while it’s original programming reflects the merits and standards of quality television their advertising and distribution model often differs immensely. Their advertising highlights the entirely new way we can relate to their shows, and how Netflix’s services have become engrained in our society.

A recent advertisement that premiered during the 2014 Emmy Awards features Ricky Gervais inserting himself into Netflix original shows after stating, “You know when you’re watching your favorite Netflix show and after five straight episodes it’s like you wanna be in it.” This direct address of “you know” demonstrates just how accustomed we have become to watching programming in this style of binge-watching that Netflix is known for. Our relationship to it is different than the traditional model of waiting a week between episodes.

Netflix recognizes their power in shaping how viewers consume programming now and in the future. Looking forward, Netflix is continuing to create their own original content instead of relying on gaining the rights to stream existing network or cable shows. This is important, as Netflix is continually seen more and more as competition for cable services rather than as an aid in gaining a larger audience for them. In the video below Director of Global Media Relations Jenny McCabe describes how Netflix determines what content to license, saying, “We can’t license everything and also maintain our low prices so we look for those titles that deliver the biggest viewership relative to the licensing cost.”

This video comes as a response to frustrations many viewers have expressed with the lack of options available on Netflix at times. McCabe addressing the fees and the cost of licensing from other companies further illustrates Netflix’s need to produce their own original content. As competitors begin to create their own streaming services many pull their programs from Netflix. Showtime removed their content from Netflix in 2011 after forming their own online service.

Netflix’s foray into original programming began with Lilyhammer in February of 2012. The show gained modest interest, but was not critically acclaimed. The company’s real success came a year later with the release of House of Cards in February 2013. Much of the buzz around House of Cards came from it’s source material and the talent surrounding it. It was based on an existing UK miniseries that had already gained success.

House of Cards’ success recently earned them a third season and the news was released on the show’s twitter this week:

The attachment of David Fincher as executive producer as well as his directing the first episode drew interest and helped to sway those who were apprehensive at first. Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall says of the choices Netflix made in recruiting such talent and releasing all episodes at once:

Netflix executives are saying that this is how their subscribers are accustomed to watching shows, but when they have a “Mad Men” marathon, they’re binging on a show they’ve been hearing friends, relatives and critics rave about for years on end. “House of Cards” is attempting to skip straight past the word of mouth phase, assuming that Spacey, director David Fincher, and a lot of promotion on Netflix itself will be enough to turn the show into a success, by whatever metric it is they’re using.

The release of all 13 first season episodes at once, Netflix’s now signature style, gave viewers more agency by being able to choose the speed at which to watch. Broadband technology firm Procera Networks released data that gives an insight into how fast viewers are watching the show. The show’s first season encouraged binge-watching, with “about one-quarter of those who watched the first episode motored through all 13 episodes” (Variety).

According to Variety, upon the release of the show’s second season “as many as “634,000 viewers polished off 13 hours of content over three days.” The series has attracted a large fan base, with “a whopping 15% of Netflix subscribers on one particular Internet service supplied by an unspecified U.S. cable operator (Procera can’t identify its clients) watched the first episode during a six to eight hour period monitored” on it’s first release day (Variety). This indicates just how much Netflix’s original content and style of release is catching on.

Following the success of House of Cards, Netflix continued to create even more original content, as well as producing new seasons of existing shows that were dropped by their original, traditional carriers.

Netflix has spanned a wide range of genres in their original programming already. And they’re furthering their reach with future programming. The company has already announced plans for another 34 more original series that are diverse in genre and theme.

Genres of current Netflix original programming.

Genres of current Netflix original programming.

Genres of future Netflix original programming.

Genres of future Netflix original programming.

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Genres of total Netflix original programming.

The pie charts above breakdown exactly what type of programming Netflix has already produced, and what type of show to expect from them in the future. I strongly suggest viewing them on the infogr.am site for a more interactive experience that creates a better comparison. While I am focusing on exploring only recurring, full season programs, Netflix has also produced a vast number of original specials, miniseries and films.

As shown clearly in the inforgraphs, Netflix has heavily gravitated toward original animated programming. This subset has included diversity within it. Some shows include more mature subject matter, like BoJack Horseman, which was released in August 2014 and Netflix’s first anime series Sidonia no Kishi, which was released in July 2014. Part of the growth of future animation programs stem’s from Netflix’s new partnership with Dreamworks studios. This collaboration will incorporate already existing characters from their films, and many are already in the works.  The agreement conditions that the studio is to develop more than 300 hours of exclusive programming based on Dreamworks Animation characters.

First image of Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’

Last November brought further major Netflix news. Marvel announced a partnership with Netflix to create four original series based on characters from the Marvel universe. The collaboration will produce four shows, with 13 episodes in each first season and a mini-series event focused around The Defenders, a trajectory similar to the mass success of their individual hero films that culminated with The Avengers. You can watch Marvel’s own announcement video below.

Netflix’s original programming continues to grow and attract large studio partnerships and immense talent. Many of those who have partnered with  Netflix have spoken out about why they chose to work with the streaming service rather than traditional television.

Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg said in a Reddit AMA:

“The coolest thing about their model to me, moreso even than the idea of people watching all the episodes together, is the idea that people are going to watch all the episodes IN ORDER. This is something I think we as audiences take for granted, but you CAN’T take it for granted when you’re working on a show for a more traditional network. Traditionally, every episode needs to work as an entrance to the series even if you’ve never seen the show before. But here, we got to know that nobody’s going to watch episode 7 unless they’ve already seen episodes 1-6, so we didn’t have to constantly reintroduce the characters and the premise, AND we could have the characters and the premise CHANGE. This influenced EVERYTHING we did”

Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, which was dropped by Fox and picked up for a fourth season by Netflix, talked to Time about the strengths of Netflix’s format and distribution:

“So my prime motive was how to most successfully and ambitiously exploit this concept of delivery system. The fact that an audience can now be in possession of this as opposed to being fed this on someone else’s timetable – well, intellectually it was very interesting but also just practically as I got into the writing of it I could put things in with the confidence that people could go back very easily and find it. People could pause it. You know, all these things that didn’t exist when I did the first show. When I did the first show there was no guarantee we were going to be on DVD, yet I put a lot of detail in there that again, in retrospect, it was like, “Wow, what was I thinking?””

Hurwitz enjoyed Netflix’s format and the creative control given to him so much that he’s signed a multi-year deal with the company.

Netflix has changed how we consume television. In releasing episodes at once Netflix has created our current culture of binge-watching. Their innovative model has changed how creators approach television’s structure. It has also allowed writers to shape their shows with this new viewing pattern in mine, adding more callbacks to previous episodes with faith that viewers will more readily understand them.

The company’s success has allowed them to branch out into original content that may not have found a place in traditional television. Their large audience and distribution model has gained the attention of tremendous studios, leading to partnerships that draw on already existing fans and audiences. These collaborations help to guarantee a built-in fanbase for this upcoming content.

I can’t say for sure whether new streaming services will adopt Netflix’s model of releasing full seasons at once. Amazon has decided against it. Netflix has also begun to acquire programming that doesn’t lend itself to binge-watching, such as a new topical, late night style talk show hosted by Chelsea Handler. Netflix has not decided on it’s release format according to The New York TimesNetflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said in a press release

““The Internet has disrupted many of the conventions of traditional television and together with Chelsea Handler, Netflix is looking forward to reimagining the late night talk show for the on-demand generation, starting with the late night part….””

Variety weighs in on Netflix’s talk show acquisition, saying, “To date, their brand positioning has rested largely on its audacious decision to provide all the episodes of a series at once. But the novelty of that will wear thin in time.”

Whether Netflix will stick to its release strategy or not, it’s effects are already being seen on traditional media. CBS recently announced they are creating their own streaming service, ‘CBS All Access.’ Executive Vice President of CBS Interactive Marc DeBevoise even recognized Netflix as the future, saying of ‘All Access,’ “It is going to look a lot like Netflix.” Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, responded to CBS’ announcement in an interview with The New York Times, saying that

“the new wave of streaming options from traditional outlets validated his company’s long-held belief that the Internet was replacing traditional television, apps were replacing channels, remote controls were disappearing and screens were proliferating.”

Netflix’s most recent acquisition is a new comedy, produced by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey entitled The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The series was picked up for two seasons after NBC decided not to move forward with it. In an interview with New York Magazine Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos answered the question of whether Tina Fey calls it a TV show if it’s not on TV now with, “Yeah, it’s still a TV show. We’re TV.” 

Social Media Helps Foster Self Confidence and Learning at Your Own Pace

Social media gets a bad reputation, but it has contributed to higher self-esteem, made us feel more connected and helped to create a sense of community for people who cannot find others who share their interests in real life.

A 2012 report from Common Sense media found that one in five teens said social media made them feel more confident, and one in four teens said social media made them feel less shy and more outgoing. 10% of teens also said social networking sites made them feel less depressed, double the amount who said it increased their depression. Teens also reported social media as helping their relationships, with over half of responses citing it as being helpful in retaining friendships.

Infographic via Common Sense Media

Social media is also helping adolescents to learn and grow in ways never available before. Students innately have different learning styles and obtain knowledge at different paces. A 2005 report states that neomillenial students “expect interactive, engaging content and course material that motivates them to learn through challenging pedagogy, conceptual review and learning style adaptation.” New learning approaches that allow users to self-publish content and receive feedback offer flexible, self-paced learning, and content on-demand for quick references and feedback.

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Flickr groups include discussions for people to ask questions and gain feedback from other users.

Social media can help students gain a wealth of information, by asking other users questions and learning from their styles. I personally benefitted a great deal from flickr. By viewing other user’s photos, their comments on how they created the shot and the exif data I learned a lot about how to use a camera and what compositions work best in different situations. With so much information available on flickr, I began to understand how different camera features affect a photograph, such as focal length, shutter speed, f-stop and ISO. With interactive features I was able to get hands on learning and ask questions directly to other users with quick feedback. With users’ feedback on my own photos I also gained more confidence in my photography and felt like I was part of a community.

So next time you see a teen taking a selfie, think about how it may be helping their self-esteem by finding support online. And the next time you see someone ‘wasting time’ on online communities take a minute to remember they may be learning from others.

Nostalgic viewing of the Nightly News made me understand how little has truly changed

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Watching NBC Nightly News was nostalgic for me. When I was growing up every night we would sit down for dinner and Brian Williams played in the background as we ate.

The structure of the news program has not changed much since my younger years and Brian Williams has sat in the anchor’s chair for almost as long as I can remember. The program design consistently has started with harder news stories, subtly incorporating softer stories, and always ending on an optimistic high note with more of a fluff piece.

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Brian Williams reports about the State of Emergency in Ferguson

The November 17th broadcast followed this tradition. It started with coverage of Ferguson and ISIS and ended with a story about 13-year-old girl who has achieved great success in pursuing a path to become an astronaut.

Watching the program with the sheer intent of analyzing it lead me to notice just how many stories they are able to fit in with 13 separate stories mentioned throughout the 20 minutes broadcast. However, very little in-depth reporting was done in any of the stories. After Ferguson and ISIS the next two leading stories were about the weather and sports. The weather and sports were then again the basis of two later stories in the program.

Television incorporates visual content and audio, but the Nigtly News did not use this aspect to their advantage. A story on the possible abuse of prescription drugs in the NFL relied on computer-generated graphics as a visual piece of the story, but they communicated the same information that was spoken.

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Graphics that portrayed the same information as the segment’s audio

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Graphics that portrayed the same information as the segment’s audio

I was aware of almost every story they reported prior to viewing the program and the information they reported on each was basis at best.The Nightly News has always provided Americans a way of catching up on events of importance that have taken place while they have been away at work. However, there is a less of a demand for this type of report because Americans are now able to learn snippets of events as they unfold throughout the day. In the future, The Nightly News is going to have to adapt to what there is an audience demand for, and I believe this may come through either a shift toward more in-depth, lengthier reporting or shorter segments.

Who, or what, is Film Crit Hulk?

The Internet, for good or bad, allows people to be whoever they want to be, and often anonymously. And one such person (or creature?) who has used this is to his advantage is FILM CRIT HULK. Hulk started writing under the moniker in 2010 on his blog. Soon after he became a regular contributor to the entertainment website Badass Digest, affiliated with Alamo Drafthouse cinema.

It can take awhile to get past his unconventional style as he writes in all caps and takes on the voice of the character The Incredible Hulk. But his knowledge and advice are incredibly valuable, not to mention entertaining. (If you can’t get past the all caps you can always copy and paste the text to this website).

Hulk’s identity has never been revealed, but rather than as a mask to unleash criticism without being held accountable, Hulk uses it to protect his interests. Hulk works within the film industry. He brings it up without parading it, instead he is upfront about his connections to some members of Hollywood whose work he discusses. In his ‘Top 10 Movies of 2013’ Hulk marks any conflicts of interest, stating “* INDICATE KNOWING OR HAVING WORKED WITH CREATIVES INVOLVED, OR MARKED WITH ** TO INDICATE DRAFTHOUSE AFFILIATION, OR MARKED WITH A *** TO INDICATE AN OBVIOUS ONE OF A CREATIVE HAVING DONE A BOOK INTRODUCTION). IN THE END, THESE MOVIES SIMPLY NEEDED TO BE INCLUDED. TO OMIT THEM WOULD BE ITS OWN KIND OF DISHONESTY. ”

Hulk's Twitter

Hulk’s Twitter

While his style is at times distracting, his writing is observant and astute. His casual tone provides an approachable way for fans to interact with someone working within the industry without intimidation and he often replied to comments or questions posed by fans online. He’s amassed many followers in a relatively short period of time, with almost 45,000 twitter followers. He also recently published an ebook with advice for screenwriters that included an introduction from acclaimed filmmaker Edgar Wright. Hulk’s style is innovative, if not unusual. But his writing is clever and perceptive. It often provides motivation and how-to’s for those breaking into the film industry, along with gaining recognition from those within the industry.

Spike Lee even shared Hulk’s piece on Lee’s film Do the Right Thing.

Cycling Through the Control Room Positions in Studio B

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Students check the posted rotation to see what position they will be working, with students rotating every 20 minutes.

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The main control room with positions left to right: Assistant Director, Director, Technical Director, Rob the studio head, Recordist and Prompter.

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Audio booth controls

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Monitor of the four studio cameras on the left and monitor with the Computer Graphics for the show on the right.

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The many buttons the technical director is in control that are used to cut from one camera or input to another.

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The technical director practices during a rehearsal.

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The assistant director is in charge of keeping track of time and making sure the program doesn’t run longer than the four minutes allotted.

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From left to right technical director, director and assistant direcor with a window to the studio itself seen above the technical director and the monitor of the cameras above the director.

To take a look inside the studio check out Makenzie’s blog!

What Even is a Streaming Stick?

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Amaon’s Fire TV Stick, Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s Streaming Stick

In less than a year in a half three new streaming devices have emerged that allow users to wirelessly play content on their television through a simple streaming stick. Google’s Chromecast, the Roku Streaming Stick and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick all come in at under $50 and are the size of a USB thumb drive. Users simply plug their device of choice into the HDMI port to wirelessly stream content from a range of applications.

All three services share similar size. A main difference is Roku and Amazon’s inclusion of a physical remote, while Chromecast relies on users to employ their phone or laptop to control content. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, as the newest of the three, contains the most up-to-date hardware with more RAM and storage than the rivals.

The competition to differentiate themselves from one another emerges in the content and applications that are available to stream. Roku’s relative independence, as opposed to the large parent companies the other two are part of, allows it the most access to a multitude of applications such as Amazon Prime, HBO Go and Time Warner Cable. A full break down of what is available on which was created by CNet and provides a guide as to which device may be best suited for your media tastes.

Being the newest to join the streaming devices competition Amazon is already striving to differentiate itself. While Amazon’s Fire TV Stick has the least access to different services for streaming, it’s compatibility with their own game controller allows user to play over 200 games.

The competition between the three has benefitted consumers greatly by creating the need to keep adding more content to stream at a quicker pace. No one device is inherently better than the others, instead, consumer’s individual needs can help to determine which streaming stick is the right one for them. With such a simplistic design, low cost and more content continually becoming available the ability to cut the chord from cable becomes even easier.

Photo via Time

How Does Your Favorite TV Show Fare Through the Years?

The Internet allows more interaction between content creators and their audience than many other mediums. This idea is used by Graph.TV to draw viewers into its data visualization of television shows IMDB ratings per episode by allowing viewers to choose which show’s data they are interested in. Personally, using it was somewhat addicting. I went through many different shows I have seen and others I haven’t in order to try to guess how shows ratings increased or decreased.

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How IMDB users rated every episode of The Office.

The site’s layout is visually simplistic and its large format, with the graph taking up almost the entire screen, provides less distraction from the data. The ability to hover over each episode in order to see which performed the best is very useful and I could see myself in the future using it to easily see which episodes are worth watching.

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Dexter’s series finale was not well liked by users.

Besides choosing the program, more control is also given to the user by allowing them to toggle on and off the season or series trend lines and how the Y-axis is scaled. Both options are very useful in further understanding the data and creating ways to look at certain aspects of the data. By scaling the Y-axis from 0-10 it allows users to fully understand how the program is ranked as a whole. Season and series trend lines also illustrated the ups and downs of the program throughout its entire run. With prior knowledge of programs these can become fascinating. For example, the series Community went through large changes in season four when the show runner and creator was fired until ultimately returning to control in season five. This is reflected in the ratings and the show undergoes a large drop in user ratings in season four.

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Community’s data with Y-axis 1-10 rating.

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Community’s data with auto Y-axis.

Graph.Tv allows the user much more freedom in personalizing the data to show what they are interested in learning more about, something not often available in traditional journalism. The simplistic graph design allows the information to be easily understood, while further options allow a more in-depth look at the data if the user chooses to interact with it. I would love to see this type of visualization utilized for statistics other than IMDB rankings, such as audience viewership or tweets about a program, as IMDB ratings are quite skewed since a smaller population contributes to the site. Graph.TV is effective through giving users the ability to interact with and personalize the data to fit their interests. This also works in the sites favor by creating an almost addictive quality by allowing users to make prior guesses about how each show might fare. The simple layout also prevents over-stimulation and saturation, creating an easier way to consume and fully understand the data.