Advertising on Netflix is a far cry from the promises the streaming service delivers
The revolution began on March 24, 2015. That was when Netflix launched in Australia and “dropped” its first original commission. The American version of the English political thriller house of cards arrived with all 13 episodes of its first season. They could be viewed anytime and at a pace viewers preferred: single episodes, feature-length double episodes, a grand binge, or anything in between. And fortunately all this is free of advertising.
Seven years later, we take this autonomy for granted. At the time, however, it was enlightening and wonderfully liberating after decades of the unfortunate reign of detested commercial television practices. This included programs that run later than planned and overtime and are virtually unwatchable due to the frequency and length of commercial breaks. Now it should never be the same again: There was an alternative that offered freedom and flexibility. The TV landscape had changed fundamentally and seemingly irrevocably.
But a recent tremor has rocked this brave new SVOD (streaming video on demand) world with the news that Netflix had seen its subscribers slump for the first time. It lost 200,000 in the first three months of the year, with forecasts of another 2 million, and its share price plummeted. In response from the global giant that prides itself on being a loud and proud disruptor, a rebel that has gleefully rejected the priorities and practices of the ‘heritage’ media, a range of measures have been considered. One of them sounds awfully familiar, and not in a good way.
The company is rumored to be preventing or restricting people from sharing their access to the service, or charging more for the privilege of doing so. The company, known for spending billions a year on content, has also tightened its wallet, scrapped programs and slashed commissions (sorry Meghan Markle, No pearl to you).
In addition, there will likely be an introduction of ads to the service, or at least one of its tiers: subscribers may have to pay more to avoid them. What!? Advertisement for a service we already pay for? Hmm, sounds suspiciously like Foxtel. It also destroys one of Netflix’s original drawcards.
When one reflects on the changes that pioneering Netflix and subsequent streamers have brought about in seven years, a discernible return to the old ways is evident. A number of new series arrive at weekly intervals, either because the provider can access them so quickly or because that provider has decided that a drip feed is the most effective way to keep viewers engaged.
Plenty of high profile newcomers don’t allow us to binge. Her premiere comes with the daunting caveat that an exciting new episode will be available next week. Among them: The stairs, Julia and We own this city (Foxtel on Demand and Binge); billy the kid, gas lit and Chop (Stan*); We crashed, slow horses, Tehran, Luminous girls and The Essex Serpent (AppleTV+); 1883, The First Lady and The offer (outstanding+). So while the reach is certainly there – and cheers for it – you can watch these potentially addictive productions via old-fashioned weekly installments.
The arrival of streamers amplified and accelerated the flight from free TV and an already emerging fragmentation of the viewing audience. Gone are the days when millions of us would gather to watch the same show at the same time and share our thoughts at the proverbial water cooler the next day. The audience shattered, the sense of community shattered, and much of that discussion is now happening online. After two years of pandemic lockdowns, the value and limitations of such interactions have been graphically illustrated.