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Monday, 10 June 2013

Is Netflix A Threat to Scheduled Television?

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple of months, you'll have noticed the sudden rise in on-demand web streaming services for films and television. Most well-known to note and some recent additions to the growing market are Tesco's Blinkbox, Amazon's Love Film and Netflix, who is owned by... uhm, Netflix?

So let's hone in on Netflix here, I'm not gonna lie and come right out and admit: I'm a fan. The service is pretty nifty for a small monthly fee, not only do you get a rather large catalogue on popular TV series and films, but you can stream in high definition on pretty much any device you may have: wether that be on your laptop or your mobile. It's because of this accessibility that we, as a household, find the service more appealing of what can occasionally be on the box on a night. I'm going to use myself as a case study here: I work normal 9-5 hours right now, but I have been known to and probably will in future work unsocial and irregular hours of a day, which means I can sometimes miss the primetime slot of a series. Yes, we are in an age of catch-up TV, and there are services available from each of the top broadcasters of their content but it can be very easy to miss the beginning episode of something when these catch-up services have a 'watch-by' date on them. Thus, the games console, smart-phone or tablet goes on and a search for content begins: and this is where I look back on myself and think - whatever happened to scheduled television?

For me, gone are the days of sitting myself down with a brew for a scheduled TV event every night of the week. I remember in my childhood that the pinacle of Sunday night viewing with the family used to be an episode of Heartbeat, followed in later years by The Royal, and then came the slew of soaps on a nighttime after having my bath and letting my hair dry by the fire ready for school in the morning. In fact, when I go home and visit the parents we will spend the evenings still watching the soaps, I can even tell you exactly what and in what channel-switching order the soaps are on these days even though I haven't watched them properly in years. In my home however, it is completely different. I think there are very few programmes we will sit down and watch together, one of those being Doctor Who which I actually recall watching the 2005 revival of by that very same fire at home in my parent's house, and that's just because I just can't wait to see what happens so I make time for it. Actually, the main reason why I keep watching it when scheduled is because I'm committed, and it's hard to get into anything these days when you miss the first episodes.


It's at this point I look back on what I've already written and think, blimey - how much telly do I actually watch? The answer is still, quite a lot. The environment of which we consume television is changing because it's very easy to get original content online (I'm talking YouTube and catch-up services) and Netflix is no exception. In actual fact, the service this year released it's first original series, House of Cards, headlined by Kevin Spacey and the political drama series was closely followed by the fantasy epic Hemlock Grove - not starring Spacey. I call Hemlock Grove an epic because that's what it is, each episode (of which the series has thirteen of them) is 45-50 minutes long with a production budget of $45 million (that's about £29 million in her majesty's British sterling), so we're talking on par with HBO's Game of Thrones with the latest series of that coming out at a reported $50 million (which is... yeah I'm not gonna do the maths on how many pennies that will set you back but you get the idea) and let me tell you, the quality certainly matches up.

 You see, that's beauty of a self-commissioning streaming service like Netflix is, they release entire series at once so there is no waiting for new episodes to be released - and that is very attractive to the new age TV consumer. Why bother waiting each week for a new episode of a series when you can wait just as long in production terms for the programme to be made and have it laid on a plate to you as a full course dinner. You can even choose to eat the dessert in your living room, on the bus or during your lunch break in the staff room at work. Okay so eating something like a squishy chocolate cake with cream might be a bit too messy sitting on the bus as you go round a sharp corner... but we're not talking about cake here. Mr Netflix is now giving you, the audience, the power to choose when and where you want to watch his content and this is a very attractive feature to have.

It does seem that these streaming services are a real-threat to scheduled television due to the advances in technology to make the when and where an option to the public - but I will talk about one other scheduled TV event I made time for: Broadchurch. Technology brings with it new ways of using social media, the major and most well-know of these is Twitter. I am a tweeter myself, a master of hashtags and mentioning - this is what made Broadchurch so exciting for me. Trying to in 140 characters or less explain my shock, dismay and awe of the killer being revealed live. Would I get that level of social outreach by watching on a streaming service whenever and wherever I felt like it? Probably not.

It's the same for Sunday night viewings at my parent's house, I may not watch these programmes on my own at home but watching them with the family is sharing views and opinions of events as they happen on the TV and I tell you now, I won't be giving that tradition up anytime soon. As accessible as these programmes are from streaming services, I don't think we will be ditching broadcast schedules for anything, anytime just yet.

Contributed by Mel Wills

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