Netflix's CEO - Reed HastingsTWITTER/ambermac

To understand the power of Netflix, imagine this: If you could look into a crystal ball in January, what would be the second most startling thing that you would learn (that is after the global pandemic)? I’d say that it’d be the fact that a soapy reality show about tigers would manage to become a national topic of conversation. But after we get to the bottom of whether Carole Baskin fed her husband to a tiger, we should think about Netflix’s extraordinary rise and its cultural importance in the modern world.

Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the few companies that’s been faring well through the crisis. It announced this week that it added a staggering 15.8 million subscribers to its platform, bringing the number close to 200 million. What is considered today a household essential, was at the turn of the millennium a DVD dispatching service. Who could dream that a delivery service would evolve into a company that competes with veteran studios at the Oscars, and indeed is considered an existential threat to the survival of the movie industry as we know it?

This rise can be attributed to its unique business model, creating a strong brand name and a loyal customer basis. An essential ingredient for it, I would argue, is the infiltration of popular culture. Netflix has managed better than any other company to dominate the current discussion about the film industry and to cause an upheaval in the traditional way we perceive movies and TV.

"(...) we might end up with more content than ever, perfectly attuned to our personal taste, but what are we giving up to get this?"

A big part of the Netflix success story is personalisation. Todd Yellin, Netflix’s VP of product, said in an interview that the platform’s shows are personalised in as many ways as possible for every single Netflix member, no matter where they live. Take the ‘Stranger Things’ posters. Netflix found out that fans of action movies and thrillers prefer a poster with an image of Eleven, while documentary devotees prefer to see Jim Hopper, the local police chief.

Netflix has found over 2000 of such ‘taste clusters’. It then tags its content with thousands of genre terms, and its algorithm works out exactly what gets promoted on their user’s page. This is how Netflix figures out that fans of Stranger Things might also enjoy nostalgic shows like ‘That 70’s Show’, teen series like ‘Riverdale’, or horror shows like ‘Dracula’. By using individualised marketing techniques, Netflix managed to transform an 80s nostalgia show into a global phenomenon, watched around the world, available in 20 different languages.

The seemingly ever-changing Netflix library provides its viewers with the incessant supply of new content keeping them hooked from month to month. A key component of its strategy is its original content. In order to satisfy its enormous global viewership, Netflix is interested in a variety of niche programmes and films. As a result, it’s more willing to invest in independent films and series.

Indeed, the nature of the internet sustains the desire for idiosyncratic content. When consumers are faced with a limitless choice of products that appeal to them as individuals, the demand for blockbuster films and series falls. This has changed the decision of whether a show is worth making. Netflix is more interested in targeting its ‘taste clusters’ rather than broad demographic groups. Personalisation allows the company to get better results for lesser-quality shows by showing them to only those who like it. For example, ‘The Kissing Booth’, a teen rom-com, despite being considered a failure by critics, was seen by more than 20m households. When viewers trust the brand and have only a limited amount of time to spend watching TV, they have little reason to look somewhere else.

So what’s next for Netflix? Having caused an upheaval in the American entertainment industry, Netflix now has plans to use its formula for global domination. Indeed, it has seen the largest increase of the number of subscribers amidst the audiences in Europe and Asia. It made popular series such as ‘Money Heist’, ‘Baby’, ‘Dark’, or ‘3%’ in 21 different countries. Once one recognises the power of Netflix, you’ll easily understand that the global ambitions of the company are rather concerning. Christophe Tardieu, the director of the French National Cinema Centre, described Netflix as “the perfect representation of American cultural imperialism”. The rise of Netflix is arguably a new wave of globalisation. It can be seen as the rise of a new monoculture that poses the threat of crowding out the local culture as films and series worldwide evolve in terms of style and content only to match American norms.


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Netflix undoubtedly revolutionised the entertainment industry, and in some ways this is regrettable. Movie-making is not just a commercial enterprise, it’s an artform that should be appreciated in its own right rather than as a money making process. It’s true that with Netflix and other Big Tech streaming sites, we might end up with more content than ever, perfectly attuned to our personal taste, but what are we giving up to get this? The communal feeling of enjoying a favourite series with family on TV? The experience of watching something completely original and outrageous in a movie theater? Maybe we should reconsider whether we want to surrender this unique part of our culture to the ever so powerful tech industry.

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