Netflix, serial killer producer?
18 Jun, 2019
The thriller that kills, the teenage series in the 80’s sauce, the romantic comedy for thirty-year-olds, the documentary that denounces… Netflix has become THE content platform to find the series that suits us.
But by creating content that absolutely wants to please us or that meets the tastes of the moment, isn’t Netflix standardizing the market and imposing new rules for content creation?
Let us try to explain this standardization in 8 reasons.
#1 An algorithm that poses a problem
For the guarantors of cultural diversity, there is a worrying element with Netflix: it is that beyond the competition it introduces, the company uses an algorithm that undermines the diversity of the offer.
The system is actually based on the recommendation. By dint of use, Netflix knows its user and offers him films or series close to his initial choices. Thus, our choices are no longer dictated by a desire but by a mathematical calculation… an equation that will reinforce what the user already likes.
This algorithm provokes a large number of questions: is it consistent with what is being advertised, in other words, is it fair to the user’s choices? Will the proposals formulated meet the expectations of the user or those of Netflix? So, is there a risk of falling into a certain standardization?
Questions that echo those asked on social platforms and their algorithms; or for the giant Google….
#2 My friends’ series are my friends
Don’t you have a Netflix code to lend me for the weekend?
A request that is now part of our daily lives among colleagues, friends or family. Indeed, by allowing the simultaneous connection of 2 or 4 devices, Netflix not only multiplies the viewing possibilities but also offers itself a free update of its algorithm.
By logging into your friend’s account and viewing certain content, you will influence the future content that will be associated with your generous benefactor’s account.
Shared connection, shared tastes. We share everything with friends.
#3 Binge watching
The more crazy people, the more binge we binge.
Because we are always influenced by what the world is watching, Netflix offers us the opportunity to discover the most popular content… by category in the community.
In other words, choosing a new series on Netflix after a long rainy weekend of binge-watching in France, is not really a choice, but rather a suggestion, even an invitation.
The binge-watcher community therefore decides for more casual users what they should look at. I am, so I binge.
#4 Hide-and-seek hidden codes
As you have noticed, it is sometimes complicated to filter the films and series that interest us according to very precise and personal criteria, especially when Netflix only offers 15 categories on all its films, for example.
But don’t panic, watch a classic comedy, an old western, a little Italian movie, or a good big American nerd featuring superheroes, it’s possible… with a little trickery! Are you good at hide-and-seek?
Netflix engineers have created small secret codes that still allow access to other categories and even sub-categories that are normally invisible. There is a series of codes to access all genres of films and series. To access a specific category, simply enter the secret code after the address www.netflix.com/browse/genre (ex: www.netflix.com/browse/genre/47465)
Thanks to Presse-Citron who threw all the codes here.
These codes being only available on blogs, we can wonder about Netflix’s willingness to make discover different contents with a more limited audience…. To be curious about Netflix, you don’t have to be lazy.
#5 A “Tower of Babel” strategy
Faced with a European audiovisual profession that is still sceptical, with a French production market very concerned about protecting its cultural exception, Netflix has found a solution that is both local and globalized.
Netflix has thus launched a multi-domestic strategy over the past three years by unveiling new original local series with strong potential for global resonance, such as “Dark”, a series from Germany, but with 90% of the audience outside Germany.
For Brian Pearson, head of content acquisition in Amsterdam, Netflix has developed a global taste for European content. Series such as Casa de Papel or Dark showcase local talent through intrigues that speak to the world.
A storytelling that speaks to everyone, for everyone, seen everywhere in the world.
#6 To be indignant, but in his chair
A new phenomenon observed in the Netflix catalogue, documentaries such as “Save Capitalism”, “Risk” or “Fish People” that undermine a capitalist and consumerist society.
Pretty weird for Netflix, isn’t it?
If the platform ensures so quickly the good health of our critical mind and our ability to be outraged, it is because it gains something, if only temporarily.
As a follow-up to François De Smet’s book, Lost Ego, we could ask ourselves whether Netflix is not trying to re-appropriate the functional links that unite the media to citizens.
She would make her client a full-fledged citizen, who obeys and reacts to the same stimuli as in real life. In other words, Netflix would try to preserve the illusion of great values and ideological struggles that drive us to indignantly sit in the hollow of our seats, comfortably in front of shows over which we no longer believe we have any control.
By advocating for justice and freedom, by being fiercely opposed to the system, by standing by those who fight, Netflix maintains the illusory nature of the dominant ways of thinking in mass society.
The ideals of protest and libertarianism have no longer just become a commodity among others, they ensure that control over the powers of our freedom is maintained. Who’s going to take to the streets? Who will really organize a global protest movement to end capitalism?
Today, our society makes us believe that all we have left to change the world are words and outrage. We remain free as long as we keep that. Netflix has understood this by transforming this idea into a business strategy that can bring in new subscribers.
#7 An economic model that raises questions
As content producers are confronted with the demanding expectations of viewers and a landscape disrupted by digital players, they are now looking to Netflix to ensure that the content created meets the expectations of their target audiences, without exploding their budgets.
Indeed, Netflix has an excellent knowledge of the cost of production, but also of the nature of the audiences that interact according to the content. Thanks to the visibility on these two types of data, the platform is able to calculate the return on investment of content production in a way that is unique to the sector.
Netflix can thus predict in advance which production will be successful in which market, and thus target which series should be given priority in terms of production and media coverage.
An economic model based on content “that can appeal to the greatest number” necessarily attracts people. Beyond a future cohabitation between Disney, Amazon, Apple and Roku as future channels, we can especially wonder about the future of content creation and the freedom of its creators.
#8 Soon the ad page….
With such an economic and algorithmic model, one could wonder why Netflix had not yet opened its platform to advertising. Don’t worry (or not), it’s coming soon.
Until now highly resistant to advertising, Netflix is currently testing to see “whether the recommendations between episodes help users discover stories they might enjoy more quickly”.
Translation: add advertising between two episodes of your favorite series.
In response to the general outcry from subscribers, Netflix then specified that the ads were still in the test phase and that they could be zapped to directly access the next episode. In addition, Netflix does not consider these ads as commercial advertisements, but rather as trailers to branded content. It’s more presentable.
It would be too simple to summarize Netflix as a rather tidy and cynical article.
As this platform has revolutionized the way we watch films, series and documentaries in just a few years, it now seems complicated to blame it for its globalized and optimized approach to producing content for a better return on investment.
While Netflix is now free to produce and push the content it considers most relevant with its 130 million subscribers, we are also free to ask ourselves how Netflix guides our choices and tastes.
At a time when the Facebook algorithm is being criticized for suggesting branded content in an arbitrary way, why are we being so accommodating with Netflix when films and series are being promoted in the same way? With the opening to advertising, are we going to become more vigilant with the Netflix recommendations?
Before answering the question of how to use our data for commercial purposes, Netflix’s next challenge will be to find a balance between popular and niche content.
By trying too hard to please as many people as possible, Netflix may well become very predictable, weary of its audience and no longer surprise many people.
After its first 3 Oscars received for Alfonso Cuaron’s film “Roma”, we can hope that Netflix will use this beautiful showcase to take more and more risks towards films and author series. To be continued.
Rayon vert cinéma