The revolution began on March 24, 2015. That was when Netflix was launched in Australia and “threw out” its first original commission. The American version of the English political thriller House of Cards arrived with all 13 episodes of the first season. They could be watched at any time and at a pace that the audience prefers: one-part fragments, full-length double series, one big drink or anything in between. And all this happily without advertising.
Seven years later, we take this autonomy for granted. However, back then it was a revelation and surprisingly liberating after decades of unfortunate domination of commercial television over hated practitioners. This included running programs later than scheduled and in excess of the allotted time, making them virtually impossible to view due to the frequency and duration of advertising breaks. Now everything will never be the same: there was an alternative that offered freedom and flexibility. The telelandscape has fundamentally and, it turned out, changed irreversibly.
But a recent push has shaken this bold new world of SVOD (video broadcast on demand) with the news that Netflix has for the first time recorded a decline in subscribers. In the first three months of the year, it lost 200,000, an estimated 2 million more, and the stock price fell sharply. A number of measures have been discussed in response to the global hippopotamus, which prides itself on being a high-profile and proud destroyer, a rebel who has cheerfully rejected the priorities and practices of “legacy” media. One of them sounds very familiar, and not in a good way.
Rumor has it that the company will prevent or restrict people from sharing their access to the service, or will charge more for the privilege. The business, which is famous for spending billions on content every year, has also tightened its wallet, canceled programs and abolished commissions (sorry Megan Markle, no The pearl for you).
It will also likely be the introduction of advertising in the service or at least at one of its levels: subscribers may have to pay more to avoid them. What !? Ads for services we already pay for? Hmmm, suspiciously similar to Foxtel. It will also destroy one of the original Netflix cards.
Reflecting on the changes that pioneering Netflix and the next pack of streamers have brought in seven years, the obvious move back to the old ways. A number of new series are coming in weekly steps either because the provider is accessing them at such a rate, or because that provider has decided that drip delivery is the most effective way to keep viewers ’attention.
Many recent high-profile arrivals do not allow us to drink. Their premiere is accompanied by frustration that a new exciting episode will be available next week. Among them: Stairs, Julia and We own this city (Foxtel on request and binge); Kid Billy, Gazlit and Hacks (Stan *); WeCrashed, Slow horses, Tehran, Brilliant girls and Essex Snake (Apple TV +); 1883, First Lady and Offer (Paramount +). So while the range is definitely there – and it’s nice – you can watch these potentially exciting productions through old-fashioned weekly releases.
The arrival of streamers has underscored and accelerated the flight from free television and the audience is already shrinking. Gone are the days when millions of us gathered to watch the same show at the same time and then shared our thoughts the next day around the famous water cooler. The audience is divided, the sense of community is divided, and much of this discussion is now happening online. After two years of blocking the pandemic, the value and limitations of such interactions have been graphically illustrated.