The textbook that I’ve assigned for my online Evaluating Contemporary Television course, The Netflix Effect: Technology and Entertainment in the 21st Century, features fifteen chapters written by media experts, historians, and cultural practitioners. The first two chapters that I’ve asked my students to read are: Cameron Lindsey’s “Questioning Netflix’s Revolutionary Impact: Changes in the Business and Consumption of Television” and Gerald Sim’s “Individual Disruptors and Economic Gamechangers: Netflix, New Media, and Neoliberalism.”
Additionally, I’ve encouraged my students to listen to the first episode of the Podcast Business Wars, which concerns the battle between Netflix and Blockbuster. That 30-minute podcast episode — the first of eight in the “Netflix vs. Blockbuster” series — is entitled “Sudden Death,” and introduces us to some of the main players (including John Antioco and Reed Hastings) in the much-publicized wrangling between two media companies struggling for dominance in the competitive field of online entertainment.
Here is a link to that episode:
Together, those readings and the podcast address some of the reasons why Netflix has succeeded while many of its competitors, most notably Blockbuster, have failed.
I’ve asked my students to think about the advantages that this online streaming service has over its competitors (and vice-versa), as well as some of the problems that lay ahead.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Is Netflix’s business model sustainable for the foreseeable future?
- What kinds of suggestions does Cameron Lindsey make if the company is to fully embrace or exploit the “democratizing” and “monetizing” potential of new media?
- Why, according to Gerald Sim, might words like “democratizing” actually obscure our understanding of the transactional relationship between Netflix and its customers/subscribers?
- Which other expressions, appearing in many reports about Netflix’s disruption of existing production and distribution structures, does Sim single out as being problematic?
- In what ways has the streaming service — far from bringing about the “demise” of the television industry — developed a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship with older networks and cable channels?
- Do you believe that Netflix liberates digitally enabled audiences from older/restrictive/linear types of cultural consumption? Or do you think that such liberationist discourse is premature and short-sighted, failing to acknowledge how an abundance of “consumer niche choices” ironically contributes to the creation of neoliberal subjects for whom “democracy” is simply synonymous with the free market?
As you can see, these two chapters give us much to mull over. I look forward to reading your responses!