Old Media

Netflix and Cable: Frenemies for Life

By: Andrew Hendricks

Netflix and Hulu are currently the two largest streamers of network and studio-produced content. It’s hard to believe that Netflix has been around as a company since 1997. With the internet barely able to provide music let alone .gifs and videos, Netflix’s goal from the start to was to take on the movie rental industry. Revolutionizing the way television content is made was only a happy side effect.

It wasn’t until Netflix was already a well-known entity competing with rental video stores and directly with Blockbuster as they began their own DVD-delivery service. Yet just as Kodak died from a failure to cannibalize its own business for the future (disposable to digital), Blockbuster has finally closed up shop due to its own hubris in failing to alter their business model. Just before Netflix would begin investing heavily in technologies to perfect a streaming service, Blockbuster was approached by Netflix to be sold for $50 million in 2000, but the sale was declined.

Despite initial hiccups unveiling their streaming services and pricing model, Netflix ended up doing more than just irritate every rental store franchise owner in the country—they changed the way content itself is made.

As Netflix continued to realize its potential influence, just last year it began producing its own original content, much to the universal surprise and praise of critics. However, more than just producing a few original shows, Netflix and streaming content has literally democratized the way content is rated, made, and produced. By having instant feedback in the form of adding to your Netflix “queue” or rating something between 1-5 stars, heavily viewed and highly rated, critically acclaimed, scripted content can now immediately garner recognition in real time instead of having to claw it’s way to popularity in competition with unscripted television.

And while no one likes the “dumbing down” of American television (particularly on networks that have science, discovery, learning, or history in their name) it is important to realize that although there was a brief period during the Reality Television boom where cheap-to-produce, unscripted television was crowding out good, original content, this is no longer the case.  There is now a place for both, and the internet has spoken.

Take for instance a show like AMC’s Breaking Bad. A critically acclaimed phenomenon, and an advertiser-backed powerhouse. Universally seen as an astounding success by AMC, the actual viewer numbers compared to more mass-market appeal shows like The Big Bang Theory or Ice Road Truckers, it barely rates. But Netflix knows that people do want their high-quality, scripted television, but they also want their “guilty pleasures” too. AMC showed incredible foresight in being one of the first critically networks really put their faith in Netflix as a medium to augment a high-quality show with (at the time) mediocre numbers. This was very progressive thinking when at the same time AMC and Netflix were agreeing to such a deal, articles were being written by the dozen decrying how streaming content would destroy the entire TV industry. Now even Fox currently allows all but the newest seasons of American Dad and Family Guy to be available for streaming.

My favorite personal anecdote regarding this trend is when I noticed ABC has also wizened up to the game by putting the first two seasons of Scandal (one of my favorite shows) on Netflix. Although I watch ABC sometimes I had only seen trailers for Scandal at that time and it did not seem appealing. Yet when Netflix’s algorithm highly recommended Scandal as the type of content I would like to view, I binge-watched the first two seasons voraciously and continued the series on my basic cable, tweeting happily as #MamaPope pops up at the climactic end to season three.

New technologies don’t have to be a zero-sum game. When more people have more access to content in real-time, and are able to express their opinions on that content’s quality or watchability, literally everyone wins. Well, everyone except Blockbuster.