How Netflix is changing film and TV
Online streaming platforms, led by the stunning success of Netflix, are changing the way that filmed content is produced and consumed.
Streaming options no longer just provide a viewer-centric form of distribution, but are now influencing the way the content itself is produced.
The rise of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Video Instant and Hulu is placing viewers’ demands first and in the process giving traditional broadcasters a run for their money.
Netflix launched Kevin Spacey’s political drama House of Cards (pictured) as an original online series in 2013 and the show became a critical hit. It was the first major TV show to completely bypass the usual TV ecosystem of networks and cable operators. All the episodes were released at once and the show went on to win three Emmys in the US, the first time a non-traditional TV show had won the award.
“Think of it as entertainment that is more like books,” said Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, in a February 2014 interview with The New Yorker. “You get to control and watch, and you get to do all of the chapters of the book at the same time because you have all the episodes.”
Last year Netflix bought the distribution rights to the independently-funded Beasts of No Nation (pictured below), a feature starring Idris Elba as the commander of a unit of child soldiers in an unnamed African nation. The film was launched simultaneously online and in cinemas, challenging the conventional 90-day period that cinemas are usually given to screen movies before a home entertainment release.
Netflix subscribers had no reason to go to the cinema to watch an award-winning film and as a result the move wasn’t popular with film executives, cinemas or distribution houses.
“Netflix has demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t,” Spacey said in his James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival in August 2013. “Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it and at a reasonable price, and people are more likely to buy it than to steal it.”
Although Netflix wears the crown of online streaming and original content - even displacing HBO for best original programming according to a recent Morgan Stanley viewer survey – it’s in good company. The end of 2015 saw Amazon take its biggest step yet into the world of original programming by commissioning five new series along with renewing several existing shows.
Meanwhile, rival US streaming service Hulu is gaining ground with a mix of new subscription options, aggressive external licensing and well-received new series. It is also planning to take on cable providers and Netflix with a live TV offering.
Cable and network channels on both sides of the Atlantic are understandably performing their own manoeuvres to compete in this rapidly changing, and ultra-competitive media atmosphere.
In the UK a new production of Watership Down will see the BBC teaming with Netflix for an animated adaptation of the classic novel. With a budget understood to be close to £20m, it is the BBC’s biggest joint venture with the US video-on-demand (VoD) service. The specific structure of the distribution deal is likely to gain traction: the BBC airs the film in the UK and Netflix holds worldwide streaming rights.
It comes off the back of Netflix’s The Crown (pictured below), a £100m project planned as multiple series telling the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign.
The success of Downton Abbey across the Atlantic proved that American audiences are big consumers of British period drama and explains why the US VoD provider has invested so massively in such an ambitious production.
Meanwhile the BBC and ITV are reported to be in talks to launch a Netflix-style streaming service that builds on their respective catch-up platforms.
The subscription video service is likely to focus on providing popular, older archive TV content rather than the first run of shows that iPlayer and ITV Player already offer. If the service does get off the ground, it could open up a crucial way of further monetising content for broadcasters.
It has never been a harder, more competitive time to be in the TV industry, but from a consumer’s perspective it’s hard to complain. There has never been more to watch, and more original programming by Netflix and its competitors is going to ensure that remains true throughout 2016. The rate and depth of the impact of online streaming and original content on traditional TV is still to be defined. All points, however, to the emergence of new structures and cross-format collaborations to ensure the survival of the traditional broadcasters.
House of Cards / Beasts of No Nation images: Netflix
The Crown image: Alex Bailey/Netflix