Sociological Approach on Streaming Platforms

Movies have been there for over a century. The first movies ever made were black and white, silent and lasted merely for a few seconds, and only a few people could watch it as the only way they had access to it was theaters. And only after a couple of decades televisions came up but the distribution of this limited media still wasn’t widespread as only a very few of the aristocrats owned these sets. Television and media evolved, and the content started to grow exponentially with the increase in the number of channels as the market started to grow from both the sides. Currently, 197 million households in India have a television connection which consists of more than 66% of our population but the way we consume entertainment is changing rapidly like never before with the entry of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO etc. The streaming service was launched by Netflix in 2007 when Silicon Valley realized that the internet is the biggest innovation as it can reach out to masses more easily than any other technology. This disruption in the entertainment industry poses a grave threat to the television industry as the subscribers, especially the teenagers and working class are rapidly shifting to the subscription models of the streaming services as they promise more power to the consumers.

The promise to be available on any smart device and not just on television, no advertisements, option to download, the choice to watch a show whenever you want, continue whenever you want and the whole concept of binging and recommender systems have taken the attention of the market due to its affordable prices. The number of television industry’s subscribers is plummeting day by day posing a serious threat to content makers, channel owners yearning for change. DVDs are obsolete now, the whole industry is shifting to digital platforms leading to the fall of giants like Moserbaer, Sony etc. in the DVD industry. The labour market is shifting from manufacturing and shipping the content to more of an IT domain like cloud computing, software engineering, machine learning to deliver the content. Even the actors and content makers are interested to deliver to these platforms because of its wider audience. These platforms allow them to talk about topics like LGBTQ, sex, addictions, bullying etc. which would never be discussed on traditional television or movies. Censorship is not imposed and is voluntary for the platform which allows these issues to be discussed making it more realistic and relatable to the audience. This hooks the audience as they connect more easily than the usual soap operas which can be referred to as “cognitive empathy”.

Now the idea of not waiting for your favourite show changes the game here. Netflix takes its users through a long journey of cliffhangers forcing them to watch episode after episode, season after season and even show after show without advertisements and even giving them the option to skip the introductions and credits making us more impatient. This model is encouraging the industry to make diverse and interesting content otherwise there is a higher chance of going unnoticed due to the page ranking system. Consumers seem happy shifting their movie experience from theaters to bedrooms making life so much simpler but there is more to it. The choice and power given to the audience keep them so indulged that they lose track of time and this has led to their reduced productivity. This very situation is called “The Netflix Effect”. This has also changed interpersonal relationships and even dating scenarios leading to the term “Netflix and Chill”.

These streaming services have led to the strengthening of our filter bubble as content recommendation is done using personal data, previous behaviors and complicated Page Rank algorithms. This pushes the user’s views / perspectives over a topic to the extremes keeping them indulged and doesn’t let the users look at other genres or perspectives giving Netflix and Amazon the power to shape behaviors. They gain information which they can use for data analysis for better recommendations and the cycle repeats. This very kind of research aspect has lead to the foundation of interactive films with Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch in the mainstream streaming platforms where the consumer has to power to choose a plot hence making the movie watching experience personalized and allowing Netflix to capture more information about their consumers.

The streaming services are changing the definition, structure, and perception of entertainment for the societies. This success of on-demand video by Netflix has led to various disruptions in all industries like Uber for ride sharing, Airbnb for homestays, Spotify for music and the list goes on.

References:

T. Nguyen, Tien & Hui, Pik-Mai & Harper, Franklin & Terveen, Loren & Konstan, Joseph. (2014). Exploring the filter bubble: The effect of using recommender systems on content diversity. WWW 2014 — Proceedings of the 23rd International Conference on World Wide Web. 677–686. 10.1145/2566486.2568012.

Just another human with a set of perspectives and thoughts of my own.