Over 20 years, Netflix has become
the world’s most popular entertainment company. It initially started as a DVD rental
company, but now produces their own original programmes for their 109 million
When they began producing the original TV shows, they would release all the
episodes at once. This is part of the new media technology (NMT) revolution,
where the audience no longer have to wait for a new episode weekly. As a
result, this created a ‘binge-watching’ culture. Binge-watching is when the
audience watch a TV show over a long period of time, typically within one
sitting. According to Deloitte’s survey, they found that 70% of 2,200 US
audience members binge-watched an average of 5 episodes in one sitting2.
They also found that 35% of millennials would do that on a regular basis. In my
essay, I will be researching how Netflix original shows are seen as
‘binge-worthy’ and how it’s changed the way the audience view programmes with a
close look at some of the most popular Netflix original shows – ‘House of
Cards’ and ‘Stranger Things’.
Netflix was co-founded by Reed
Hastings and Marc Randolph in 19971.
The entertainment company began to develop quite rapidly as soon as it started.
In 2000, Netflix introduced a personalised movie recommendation system. This used
the user’s ratings to help accurately suggest choices for the user1. In 2007, the entertainment company
introduced streaming, which allowed subscribers to watch shows and movies
instantly on their computer1. This
began the digital shift that changed the way audiences consumed media. By 2010,
Netflix could be easily streamed on any digital device, from Xbox to TV set-top
boxes to Apple devices1. Shapiro argued
that this was the radical shift of who is in control of the media. This allowed
audience to have the choice to instantly watch whatever they want whenever they
want, which created the start of the binge-watching culture.
Binge-watching is a cultural
phenomenon that has only begun to have a real impact in today’s modern society.
Some argue binge-watching slowly began when DVDs came out3.
However, the definite beginning was when Netflix allowed 3 critically-acclaimed
TV shows to be streamed3. These were
Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. As these shows got popular, new audiences would
watch the old seasons to catch up and this is how it began to enforce a
binge-watching culture. In February 2013, Netflix decided that instead of
allowing the audience to binge-watch old seasons of a TV show, they should be
able to binge-watch new and current seasons as well3. Netflix decided to go against typical TV
conventions and release the entire first season of “House Of Cards”. This
resulted in a lot of media attention and made viewers realise how satisfying it
is to have full control over their own viewing experience3. This further supports the concept that the
audience have more control over the media they consume than ever before.
‘House of Cards’ is a Netflix original
show that was released on 1st February 2013. There is also intertextuality with the
British version, as Netflix was inspired by that mini-series. The show is about
how Francis Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) takes the audience on a journey where
he slowly gets revenge from those who wronged him like the cabinet members and
the President. With his wife, Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright), they
take over Washington and try to climb the political ladder to gain lots of
show has won 2 Golden Globe awards and many Emmys5.
When analysing the trailer for
‘House of Cards’, I found that it starts off quite calm and slow with
non-diegetic music used to create a build up, the phrase ‘Netflix Original
Series’ fades on screen. This tells the audience that Netflix created this
content and it’s not been distributed anywhere else. It then cuts to the clips
of the show. However, at the beginning the main character, Frank Underwood, is
speaking directly to the audience. This show is already breaking the 4th
wall only a few seconds in and giving the audience a lot of attention, which
makes them feel like they’re part of the show and that they know this character
very well. Not only is Netflix changing the way audiences consume media;
they’re also changing the way stories are told on TV. Throughout the trailer,
we see how the President has betrayed Frank Underwood and as a result a series
of consequences occur damaging the reputations of those that wronged Frank
Underwood. This is implied as there are many scenes where bad things are
happening, for example there is a brief mid-shot of civilians protesting
outside a politician party. Another important scene is when Frank says to
Kathy, “Get ready Kathy. Things are going to move very quickly.” This suggests
to the audience that Frank may have done something slightly illegal. The focus
then briefly moves to Zoe Barnes, a reporter who is suggested to be working
with Frank Underwood illegally publishing news articles that benefit him. The
trailer than has a mini-montage of what’s come to next and the title sequence
of the show is played at the same time to reveal the title of the show.
Throughout the trailer, there are cold hues in some scenes and slight low-key
lighting, suggesting to the audience that this is actually quite a dark show.
There are many different shots with high angles and low angles, suggesting who
has power in the show and how people use this power.
Some theorists argue that this show
may appeal to a wide audience, as it’s exploiting what big politicians may be
doing behind closed doors. It gives an insight to what could be happening in
the White House and makes the audience feel in power for knowing this. The Uses
and Gratification theory argues that the reason why ‘House of Cards’ is so
successful may be due to the audience consuming the media text as a form of
escapism. Feminists argues that the show lacks representation of female
characters, as the story is told by a man and the trailer implies that he’s the
one that is causing all the controversy in the White House. However, others
argue that the show portrays many women in power such as, Claire Underwood. The
trailer implies that both Claire and Frank work equally to gain political
power. This can appeal to a female audience, as it gives them a role model to
look up to and aspire to be enforcing empowerment within women. This suggests
that the reason why Netflix are known for producing the most successful ‘Binge
TV’ is because; their TV shows appeal to a wide global audience of 56.48
million international subscribers6.
Also, it allows the audience to develop a rapport with the characters of the
show, thanks to binge-watching.
At the Edinburgh television
festival, Kevin Spacey made a speech discussing how ‘House Of Cards’ being released
in full proves that audiences want greater control on the way they consume
In his speech he says, “the success of the Netflix model releasing the entire
season of House of Cards proved one thing, the audience want the control, they
want the freedom.” He argues that if media institutions give the audience what
they want, when they want it and in the format they want it in, they are less
likely to obtain the media product illegally6.
This is why Netflix are so successful at producing ‘Binge TV’ shows, as Shapiro
argues, “the emergence of new digital technology signals a radical shift of who
is in control of information.” This means that audiences are more in control of
the media and Netflix knows that and taps into that feeling of power.
An article written by ItProPortal
titled, ‘How original content has been the secret of Netflix’ success’
discusses why Netflix has been more successful than other streaming companies
such as Amazon Prime. They found that Amazon Prime subscribers would be more
likely to watch Netflix than the Amazon service8.
They discuss that the reason why Netflix original shows are so successful is
because Netflix knows what the audience are watching7. It allows Netflix to produce highly
specific genre titles due to collecting a lot of detailed data from their
audience. The VP of Product at Netflix says their goal was to “tear content
apart” with tags for genres, characterisations, etc. The data collected from
users was initially used to improve Netflix’s recommendations system, but since
then it’s been used for original content7.
This suggests that the reason why Netflix are known for producing the most
successful ‘Binge TV’ show is due to collecting data on their audiences and
tailoring their media texts for them. However, some media theorists argue, that
in reality audiences don’t have as much control as they think they do. This is
because big media companies such as, Netflix, collect data from their users to
tailor certain media products to their audience.
Another example of a Netflix
original programme that has helped enforce a ‘binge-watching’ culture is
Stranger Things. Stranger Things was released on 15th July 2016. The
show is about a sudden disappearance of a young boy named Will Byers (played by
Noah Schnapp) and an investigation is launched to find the boy. During this
investigation, other secrets are revealed like government experimenting,
supernatural forces and a mystery girl9.
Stranger Things has been nominated for a Golden Globe award and has won many
more awards including an Emmy10.
When analysing the trailer, I found
that it begins with a close-up of an old stereo that begins to play. As soon as
the first note plays, the Netflix logo appears, suggesting to the audience it
is a Netflix original. After that there are a series of long shots of
locations, this is to set the scene and give the audience an idea of what the
town’s life is like. While these scenes occur, non-diegetic calming music plays
in the background. This gives the audience a sense of serenity and enforces the
idea that this town is quite normal. As the trailer continues, the non-diegetic
music starts to become contrapuntal due to the scenes slowly creating a sense
of tension and enigma. Later on in the
trailer, the mood begins to change and the non-diegetic music starts to create
a sense of tension and suspense. The colour gradient of the clips become
darker, implying to the audience that this isn’t the happy town they expected
at the beginning. The music begins to get louder and the tension starts to
increase, but it then cuts back to a normal conversation between 2 characters.
This leaves the audience on edge as they don’t know what is about to occur. In
the conversation between the 2 characters, they are discussing about children
going missing. It then cuts back to a scene in which, a light bulb brightens
and then the young boy is kidnapped. This helps establish what the narrative of
the show is for the audience. After that, there a series of clips of people
trying to search for the boy. Near the end of the trailer, a new character is
introduced and it’s heavily implied there are scientists looking for her. This
creates a sense of enigma and makes the audience want to watch the show to find
out what’s going to happen.
The Uses and Gratification theory
justifies the popularity of the show, as audiences watch this fictional TV show
as a form of escapism. Theorists believe that the show is so popular because
it’s exposing government secrets. It also makes the audience have satisfaction
when they witness justice given to the corrupt government. The liberal
pluralist view argues that the show is so successful as the audience are active
consumers, because they have chance to binge-watch as many as episodes as they
want. Like Shapiro said, the success of Netflix is due to the audience having
more control over the media than ever before.
There was an article published by
NewStatesman titled, ‘Stranger Things shows just how much Netflix has transformed
TV’ discusses how the new season of Stranger Things was not that popular last
year, but this year has been heavily promoted by Netflix11.
This was because the first season was only promoted by the audience through
word-of-mouth. The article further says that the success of the Duffer Brothers
to have the funding and creative freedom is thanks to Netflix’s business model10. The difference between Netflix and
traditional broadcasters is that Netflix don’t care about bringing in big
audiences to please advertisers10. They
care about whether or not the audience love it enough to take out/renew a
subscription10. This shows that Netflix
is known for producing the most successful ‘Binge TV’ shows, as it appeals to
the audience’s interests to help it be financially successful.
The impact of Netflix’s original
programs has been very beneficial in the financial growth of the company. Not
only has it increased how many subscribers they get, but also their total
revenue. As of the first quarter of 2013, the media industries total revenue
was just over $1 billion12.
This shows how Netflix’ creative freedom is seen as a good business, as it was
found that there was $100 million distributed on original content9.
Overall, it seems that there is not
one definitive reason as to why Netflix are known for producing the most
successful ‘Binge TV’ shows. This is because there are multiple explanations
for it. One being that due to NMT, audiences now has power over how they
consume media texts. Neale’s genre theory reinforces this point by arguing that
Hollywood only produces generic films that appeal to the audience. Another
explanation is that Netflix collects lots of data from the audience to find out
what they like/dislike and tailor media texts towards the audiences’ needs.
This gives the audience the false assumption that they control what media
industries produce, when in reality that isn’t the case. However, the strongest
argument seems to be that the media company and the audience have a symbiotic
relationship that allows them to get what they want.
The audience are able to decide the
way they want to consume media texts and how they can consume it. For example,
binge-watching. However, for audiences to binge-watch shows and to find
entertaining shows to binge-watch, media industries like Netflix, must allow
that to happen. This is done by releasing original shows in its entire season
rather than releasing it weekly. The future of original content on Netflix is
ever-growing with a wide variety of genres and stories, as there have already
released 14 original TV shows as of 20158.
It shows how Netflix’ focus has moved from releasing films to original content
as they began to gain more and more subscribers. This is evident as Netflix are
planning to spend $6 billion on original content in 201713. In an early 2014 earnings conference call,
Sarando said that original content is “going to continue to grow. It’s been
quite successful for us…in terms of viewing economics and in terms of brand
enhancement and marketing.”12 This
shows that original content is something Netflix will continue to look after and