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Essay: Television vs Netflix: Analyzing Flow and Distinctive Natures

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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Ted Sarandon, Netflix’s chief content officer, claimed that ‘Television is television, no matter what pipe brings it to the screen’ (Carr, 2013, electronic source cited in Almeida, 2015, p237). With more than 125 millions subscribers worldwide, Netflix can be seen as a company who has changed the broadcast industry and redefined television successfully. According to Tryon, Netflix routine with regards to continually recasting itself can be perused as a sign of how new media innovations create and alter their contributions and usefulness after some time (2015). Back to 1997, Netflix was providing a transactional video rental service that rented DVDs by mail. And in 2007, due to the advancement of technology, especially its recommendation algorithm, Netflix has finally launched their own video-on-demand streaming service and set itself as a competitor of HBO, a subscription television service capable of providing quality entertainment. Since then, people started moving away from traditional TV to embrace on-demands. In the UK, according to the broadcasting regulator, children (four to fifteen years old) and teenagers (sixteen to twenty-four years old) are watching thirty percent less TV compare to 2010 (Guardian, 2017). It is worth to compare the traditional form of television with online streaming. It is because online streaming services such as Netflix not just simply transformed the whole contents from television to online, but created a new flow that could not be found on television. In the essay, both traditional form of broadcasting and Netflix will be compare in terms of flow and some distinctive natures of Netflix will be discussed. Also the problems of ____ will be mentions.  

The concept of sequence as programming is significant in traditional broadcast system. According to Raymond Williams, it is a set of sequences or set of alternative sequences of several similar events that available in a single dimension (Williams, 2004, p.87). That concept of sequence as programming can still be found for example in BBC channel 5, there are 18 different cartoons or children’s shows available from 6 am to 9 am. These organising could retain the audience from programme to programme. And Raymond Williams also raised the concept of flow  to describe the unique nature of traditional broadcasting. He argued that it is the defining characteristic of broadcasting (Williams, 2004, p.86) and is a fundamental element to study broadcast programming (Almeida, 2015, p.238). Although there might be some exceptions, most of the communication systems before the appear of broadcasting were discrete (Almeida, 2015, p.239; Williams, 2004, p.87) such as reading books or having a meeting etc. However, Williams noticed that on TV, ‘a sequence of content transformed by the inclusion of another type of sequence and so on’ has formed a constant and planned flow (Almeida, 2015, p239), rather than several audiovisual content units put together one after the other (ibid). The text that defined as television contents do not have to be created for television originally, but about assemble different kinds of audiovisual content to their notion of flow (Almeida, 2015, p240). Moreover, the concept of flow are different nowadays compare to the earlier phases of broadcasting. The intervals between programme were some conventional sound and pictures to indicate that the channel is still operating (Williams, 2004, p.90). While the intervals has been changed to commercial advertising and redesigned with time (Williams, 2004, p.91). It is because there is a rule that intervals could not interrupt the programme and can only play during the natural breaks (Williams, 2004, p.90). And he recognised the mixture of narratives and commercial breaks is the planned flow which makes traditional broadcast different from other events. Flow, according to Binfield, ‘is the abutting and collision of programs, ads promos, film trailers as the central experience of watching tv’ (2011, p.1). And this kind of flow can still be found in most of the traditional broadcast systems nowadays.

The appear of Netflix seems to be a threat to the unique characteristic of television. The break of the traditional concept of flow seems to be unavoidable because of Netflix’s feature. Netflix online television is tied to artificial binaries between passive TV and the active web (Tryon, 2015). It allows audiences play a more active role that watching television contents whenever, wherever and however they please (Ávarez Monzoncillo cited in Almeida, 2015, p241). In traditional broadcasting, a fixed programming grid is imposed to the viewer. However, Netflix provide an alternative way for the audience. It ‘enabling individualised viewing patterns and subtly reformatting our televisual experiences along vectors of customisation and control’ (Sharma, 2016, p.13). Lotz argues that television industries has transformed form scheduling to curation (Lobato, 2018, p.242). The flow, at some points, is set by the spectators rather than the channel. Unlike the programming or the schedule on traditional broadcasting, Netflix has used a way called instant mode: releasing an entire season of a series simultaneously (Tryon, 2015). It has been the central to Netflix’s promotional strategies since it began licensing and distributing original TV series (2015). Tryon also noticed that ‘Netflix, have “packaged” the television text through streaming archives that encourage users to watch episodes consecutively’ (2015). Releasing the whole season at the same times means that there is no intervals between programmes. Even there is a button to skip the episode’s intro and credits to provide a seamless connection between episodes. And the instant mode actually makes Netflix’s television content different from traditional broadcasting. Machado noticed that in the beginning of the traditional television episodes, there are always sequence of images to remind what happened before in the story (2001 cited in Almeida, 2015, p.252). However, those images are not necessary on Netflix because it does not impose breaks or intervals between episodes (Almeida, 2015, p.252).

The instant mode that Netflix used has also changed people’s viewing habit. ‘Binge watching’ has become much more popular due to the way that Netflix release their contents. Binge watching means ‘to watch a large number of television programmes (especially all the shows from one series) in succession’ according to Collins dictionary. And even the word ‘binge-watch’ has become the word of the year by Collins in 2015 while the lexicographers noticed a 200 percent increase of its usage (BBC, 2015). A survey completed by Ofcom shows that eight in ten adults in the UK – or 40 million people – use catch-up technology such as Netflix, to watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting (2017). Tryon pointed out that people tend to watch several or whole episodes is because they have the desire for cultural capital; want to participate the discussion of the series and do not want being left out (2015). With the proliferation of online streaming services, people are having a higher level of control and access to television contents (Sharma, 2016, p.12).

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