Why Are Some People So Intent On Making Netflix More Like Traditional TV?

from the when-evolution-isn't-good-enough dept

If you recall the responses to Netflix’s botched DVD unit spinoff attempt or the outrage over those price hikes from a few years ago, there were many folks who expected Netflix to implode long before it became the powerhouse it is today. According to the latest Nielsen data, roughly 37% of all households now have a Netflix account, and the company plans to reach 200 countries by the end of this year. Netflix has largely revolutionized television, yet for some reason there’s a contingent of folks who just can’t stop complaining that Netflix should be more like traditional cable.

Case in point, Wired complained a few years ago that Netflix wasn’t complete until it implemented a channel surfing feature, because having the choice of a mountain of different options was apparently too difficult. Similarly there’s been seemingly endless lamentation over the last few years about how Netflix’s choice to release seasons all at once is bad because it kills the “water cooler marketing buzz” created as office workers prattle about each week’s show plotlines. Of course, as noted previously, people apparently love to binge watch, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in giving the people what they want.

Still, the idea that Netflix isn’t “cable enough” never seems to go out of style. The latest example comes courtesy of Rex Sorgatz over at The Message, who not only laments that Netflix has destroyed the “water cooler” chatter that helps drive show marketing buzz, but complains that Netflix’s release style ensconces him in a cocoon of spoiler paranoia, from whence he’s unable to hold any conversations about TV programs without spoilers:

“But you see the problem: We can?t talk about buzzy Netflix shows because our schedules are out of sync. The rough expectations for knowing if your friends are on episode 12 or episode 1 have been destroyed. Netflix thinks it has performed a noble act by releasing the entire season en masse, but it has actually wreaked havoc on the best part of television: talking about television.”

Has Netflix really done that? Really? It seems to me Netflix is giving people what they want — a whole lot of content to be consumed on whatever schedule people see fit. As Frank Underwood himself noted in 2013, dumping an entire season at once gives viewers the power to do whatever they want. Still, Sorgatz proceeds to argue that this is a “problem” in desperate need of fixing, and as such, he’s offered this solution:

“This, I propose, is what Netflix, Amazon, and HBO should do. They need to bring back the schedule, updated to modern lives. That schedule should be: Every day, a new episode is released, always at the same time, and blind to time zones. Imagine if House of Cards had played out over two weeks, like a mini-series…Can you imagine? The conversation around this viewing window would be massive, almost unbearable. Fans would feel compelled to catch up every night, so as to be involved in tomorrow?s discussion. And if you missed a day or two, catching up would be painless.”

Except if you think about it, that actually solves nothing. If I’m able to watch the show on Tuesday night but you’ve got an evening cheese club meeting, I’ll still spoil the show for you when we meet on Wednesday. Here’s a crazier idea: we just accept that Netflix is very different from the traditional cable experience (which is still available if that’s your preference by the way), and that this is a good thing? It seems so much simpler than endlessly complaining that Netflix isn’t more like a cable TV industry most of us agree is in desperate need of a sharp kick in the ass.

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Comments on “Why Are Some People So Intent On Making Netflix More Like Traditional TV?”

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90 Comments
Violynne (profile) says:

Two things Netflix did to change the world when it comes to watching a TV show:

-It removed 22 minutes of ads despite being a paid service. Hulu + and cable television can’t even come close to doing the same thing.

-It put the power of viewing in my control, allowing me to actually enjoy watching shows again.

Remember NBC’s “Thursday Night Must See TV”? Yeah, so do I, and it was HORRIBLE. Unless you had an accompanying guide (most had TV guide), you had absolutely no control what episode aired that evening. Repeat? Pushed back because of a long-running football game?

Then there was the idiocy of the “break”, where weeks would go by without any new show, allowing the very few people who didn’t own a VCR/DVR to “catch up”.

The entire television industry was broken since the 50s. It’s thanks to technology it finally fixed itself so a show can be enjoyed, not aired based on when advertisers wanted eyeballs to their products.

There are plenty in this industry who should take notes from Netflix. Right, Hulu?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And this is the problem with the traditional models. They try to control what viewers watch and when they watch it because it’s all a part of some marketing plan and windowed releases and buzz campaign. You don’t need these things if your shows are good enough. The buzz happens anyway if it’s good. People discover shows from meme images on Facebook or friends bragging about binge watching a series. And then the consumer can choose to watch it as they like, binge watching or delaying gratification as they choose.

The traditional model before internet streaming existed meant that there were a bunch of shows that I just never saw and many I never heard of. Who would waste money on buying an expensive DVD set for a series they never saw or heard of? The traditional model was broken.

beltorak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can probably help answer this with my vast store of rampant speculation.

TV Shows are for the most part created with the understanding of needing to support advertisement slots. They script, direct, and shoot around these blocks of times just like you work around a physical pillar. So plot developments and scene changes are broken into these time boundaries, like acts in a play. Some shows try to stretch a dramatic moment over the commercial break, so you leave with a closeup of someone’s puzzled mug, and come back to the exact same spot in time. (Some shows have also adapted to this in the extreme by replaying a few moments before the ad breaks; then there are shows that rewrite history during the replay… but ignore those for now.)

Now we throw in consumer devices that were created to automatically skip ads in recorded shows. It has to have some way of detecting these ads (if it is to be worth a damn), and to do that it probably uses some measure of the signal that indicates the commercial video is not “native” to the show. Perhaps it will detect an excessive number of black frames with zero audio, or an audio base frequency shift, or the picture colorspace is different. (I have no idea how Dish’s Hopper works btw. rampant speculation.)

To combat this (consumers are not seeing our ads! o the horror!) the show producers and ad networks try to make the ads feel like as much a part of the show as possible, at least as far as being able to fool the software.

So the hulu devs have a couple of easy choices. They can just automatically insert ads at certain time markers (offset a bit to avoid splitting any contiguous voice patterns), or they can try to find a scene break where the background is drastically different. Or (as I don’t watch hulu either) they can go the extremely cheap route and just put ads in at 18:00, 28:00, 38:00, and 48:00….

Slightly off topic, even though I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore (or movies really), I am occasionally blasted with a thought while watching a movie – you know the cognitive-emotional roller coaster you go through when a great movie is adapted to a crappy cable network and they shoehorn the ad break into the last part and it completely destroys the flow of the plot’s tension? Yeah, at those moments I am thinking “this is exactly where Lifetime will put 5 minutes of ads”… and it has the exact same effect of pulling me out of the movie for a bit.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I actually heard people talking about last night’s TV show for the first time in YEARS (probably a decade) the other day.

They were talking about the new season of House of Cards. First they synced up how much each person watched and then they talked about those episodes. They didn’t seem to notice a problem.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: "Long Before NetFlix," to RadioactiveSmurf, #3

Here is an old book about television from before the internet:

George Comstock, Television in America, Second Edition, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, California, 1991

A study by a professional psychologist. Comstock’s finding was that television was something people watched when they didn’t have anything better to do. Thus, by definition, heavy television watchers were the terminally bored and culturally deprived. No free adult watched any program with any kind of continuity, because that would have meant forgoing an opportunity to do something else. Likewise, no one was prepared to bring any kind of mental effort to a program, because that would have been incompatible with entertaining the possibility of going off and doing something else. The archetypal television-watchers were the patients in the dayroom at the state mental hospital. Television was an essentially childish medium, which had no real effect, for good or ill, on anyone except children. In the latter case, the extremes were represented by Sesame Street on the one hand, and certain kinds of advertising on the other. Television was “much ado about nothing.”

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Long Before NetFlix," to RadioactiveSmurf, #3

Television was an essentially childish medium, which had no real effect, for good or ill, on anyone except children.

Truth. And the reason was because viewers weren’t in control. Producers had to assume viewers couldn’t follow longer story arcs, so most programs were designed to be simple and self contained.

We called it The Idiot Box for a reason.

Michael (profile) says:

I like this one:

Netflix broke the unbreakable social rules for how we talk about television in the age of social media

Excuse me, Netflix RE-WROTE the social rules for how we talk about television in the age of social media by BREAKING all of the rules forced upon us by the big media companies before the age of social media.

Old man, please go back to yelling at clouds.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’re not alone. I’ve seen article after article pushed out by tech reporting outfits, but I don’t care about pop culture, so I’ve no idea, nor care about, whatever buzz the popularizers are trying to push. “Meh” or “Yawn” pretty much says it for me. Haven’t even looked. I’ve got interesting things to do, sorry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Simple fix that Netflix could do...

… if they wanted to. He does have one good point: one of the best parts of TV is talking about TV.

So add per-episode comment threads. Done and done. Now you can talk as long as you like about the episode you just finished watching with other folks who have also just watched it.

(Netflix may actually already do this, I don’t know)

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Simple fix that Netflix could do...

i thought modern TV sets just show the blue screen when they detect too much “static”?

Play around with the buttons/settings. It might still work. Disable CATV settings. 🙂

sad really, used to be a good way to illustrate how much radiation there is in everyday life.

You know you get a bigger dose from enjoying sex than your dentist’s XRay machine, yet they make you wear a lead impregnated cook’s uniform to do it? Ah, the good old days, when people weren’t quite so credulous. Not you, btw.

beltorak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Simple fix that Netflix could do...

oh yeah, i don’t doubt it. i used to be a navy nuc so i am aware of a lot of sources of radiation all around us.

but in defense of the lead aprons, while today those machines don’t put out a lot of xrays (http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/pdf/sfty_xray.pdf), i don’t think the same thing was true decades ago when the laws that required them were made. Unfortunately I don’t have any ready sources; and it wouldn’t surprise me to know that am xray or two was even back then comfortably under background. we are talking about the same public/country that put a 30 year moratorium on new nuclear reactors after three mile island, even tho no appreciable effect of the leaked contamination or radiation has been measured. but, you know, “radiation”, it’s invisible, and it causes cancer, so it is scary.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Simple fix that Netflix could do...

Why Netflix? there’s a huge numbers of places to talk about the latest episodes from social media among like-minded friends to sites like TV.com to venues totally dedicated to the show in question.

Given that many people are watching through devices that either aren’t optimal or even possible for commenting while watching the show (Apple/Amazon TV boxes, games consoles), why not just use your preferred venue and let the rest of us go on unspoiled?

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Simple fix that Netflix could do...

He does have one good point: one of the best parts of TV is talking about TV.

Totally. I like talking about TV: Like how full of ads it is, furthers blatantly some agendas, doesn’t show content its bosses don’t agree with, fucking beeps over things people say, how it tends to gravitate to the lowest common denominator and so on. There’s plenty to talk about TV.

PaulT (profile) says:

“They need to bring back the schedule, updated to modern lives.”

Modern lives that include a wide range of entertainment and other lifestyle options to suit everyone’s needs, so that they’re no longer beholden to a TV schedule, perhaps?

“Imagine if House of Cards had played out over two weeks, like a mini-series…Can you imagine?”

Yes, I can imagine waiting for the season to finish and watching it all at once like I do most shows. Or, watch a couple of episodes here and there when I have some spare time because my life doesn’t revolve around TV. Assuming some small-minded prick hasn’t ruined the latest episodes for me, anyway.

What an idiotic argument. “People don’t like what I like in the same way I like it!”.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

All this shows is how well trained people are to consume the media that big corporations want you to consume, when they want you to consume it, and how to consume it.

It shows how futile the efforts are of all those people that call for a boycott of the RIAA/MPAA, because the majority of the populace is quite happy with the old ways.

People get stuck in their habits, resisting all change and progress until their hand is forced.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

― Douglas Adams

Anonymous Coward says:

Advertising

So what I’m hearing is “word of mouth advervising is vital to a show’s success.”

Hmm… there are some other things that could be at play.

By assuming that the viewer needs a recap, you can reuse footage from previous episodes to fill in a few minutes of this weeks episode; for a long running series, this means the occasional flash-back episode.
The viewers still get their show and there’s a lower cost for production… I’m sure someone would point out how this is ‘better’ for the viewer, since it means more money for future episodes and ‘blah, blah, blah’…

Doesn’t make sense to me, but I guess I’m not qualified to decide how and when I want to watch a television show… I suppose I’ll have to trust the folks who run TV…

… … *snicker*

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t use Netflix, but I’ve noticed when trying to pick a game in Steam that it can get a bit difficult to select anything new from the vast number of games I’ve collected over the years.
On Steam, I wouldn’t mind a “Random” button (which I count as being similar to the “channel surfing” concept) to counter the “paradox of choice” (where having too much to choose from leads to an inability to decide on anything) there. I’d imagine Netflix could benefit from the option of something that allows you to narrow down a selection, but then selects exactly what to play on its own.

Aside from that, yeah, scheduled TV can naff off.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“it’s a fair bet it’s something you will enjoy. Works pretty well.”

I’ve heard enough people say this that I’m sure it’s generally true, but it doesn’t work well for me at all. Maybe my tastes are too eclectic for it or something, but I find the odds that I like something Netflix says that I’ll like are around 30%.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re:

For Steam, have you tried the queues, which show a list of games you may be interested in and/or are popular? Signed up for curators for genres or reviewers you like? Checked the “recently updated” list (sometimes you’ll find games that were interesting but still unfinished and you can see a big patch that makes them better)? What about the sales pages, or recommendation pages (popular, new, upcoming, etc)?

Of all the services I’ve used for content I find Steam is probably the best at letting me find stuff I’m interested in. I’m somewhat surprised you used Steam as an example of something that doesn’t give you enough ways to explore content (this is actually one of my biggest issues with GOG; hard to find games I’m interested in, otherwise a fantastic service).

Anonymous Coward says:

You’re either a horrible at conversing or your friends are assholes.

– Hey have you seen _____? I just finished it last night.
= Yeah, I haven’t finished it yet though, I’m only on episode ____.
– Hm, what’s the last thing that happened on that episode?
= It ended with ____ happening to ____.
– Oh yeah! Wasn’t it awesome when (prior event not giving spoilers) happened?

and so on and so on… Please don’t ruin it for everyone because you’re too simple minded to either remember the plot order of something you say you enjoy, or don’t keep friends that can do the same.

lars626 says:

I'll do it my way.

I’ll watch what I want when I want to. If someone wants to watch a certain show on Tuesday at 8pm fine, go ahead; but don’t make me do it that way.

I watch based on my interest at the time. I prefer to watch good stuff, old and new.

I have never seen an entire episode of “Friends”, and I think I am better off that way after being subjected to ‘water-cooler analysis’ of too many episodes.

Anon says:

Too Late!

>Except if you think about it, that actually solves nothing. If I’m able to watch the show on Tuesday night but you’ve got an evening cheese club meeting, I’ll still spoil the show for you when we meet on Wednesday. Here’s a crazier idea: we just accept that Netflix is very different from the traditional cable experience (which is still available if that’s your preference by the way), and that this is a good thing? It seems so much simpler than endlessly complaining that Netflix isn’t more like a cable TV industry most of us agree is in desperate need of a sharp kick in the ass.

Except this is exactly right – only the DVR has done this already for “broadcast”(??) TV. We wake up Saturday and Sunday morning with a few hours of last weeks’ TV to watch. Often, we’re more than a week behind. What’s the point of “water cooler buzz” when half the people don’t want the spoilers? (I’ve even heard TV and radio saying “we won’t tell you the score because a lot of people are PVR’ing the other game…”

And yet we still binge-watched the recent House of Cards in 3 nights.

DannyB (profile) says:

Netflix could fix this if they really wanted to

Look Netflix, here is a simple fix.

Introduce an option where a customer can pay an extra fee to their local cable company and Netflix will not allow playing each episode of a series until at least one week after you have watched the previous episode.

For an additional fee, Netflix could add a fixed time window option where you must watch the episode in a fixed time, such as 7 PM Thursday Evenings. Failure to watch it at that time means you miss it and will not have another opportunity to watch it for one year.

For people who really want the premium experience, Netflix could charge customers an additional fee that enables them to experience commercials conveniently inserted by Netflix at points in time where something exciting has happened or some major plot twist has just occurred.

For an additional fee, Netflix could remove your ability to pause the internet stream so that you must watch it live.

None of these ideas are technically infeasible to implement. Those of us who want a superior experience from Netflix should send them feedback to implement these features at once. This would allow us to blame someone other than Google for a change. (Of course, we still could look for some reason to blame Google for Netflix’s lack of the above features.)

Nic says:

He’s right though. Discussion revolving around episodes has pretty much died down. Not everyone is at the same place in watching a new season so attempting to even talk about it is risky as hell.

People like to chit-chat, speculate about shows and yes, Netflix did change that. And personally, it’s something I somewhat miss. I like to binge too but the speculation is indeed something I’ll miss.

John85851 (profile) says:

Ignore him

To be honest, I think Rex Sorgatz is being a busybody just to get attention. Look at me, everyone, I’m complaining about something that’s popular!

And I have the same message to him as I have to all busybodies who like to tell people what to do: what gives you right to tell me I have to watch House of Cards only once a week because you’re too afraid of spoilers, so Netflix has to change their schedule because of you?

Lance (profile) says:

What about books?

All this talk about how spoilers occur when talking about television shows makes me wonder whether Rex has considered joining a book club. He could be part of a community that is carrying on conversation around a medium of mutual interest. Of course not everyone reads at the same pace; so maybe he would fall behind and still end up lamenting the “spoiler” phenomena.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

The individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected.

What is up with all of these people popping out of the proverbial woodwork to tell me how I should or shouldn’t experience TV?!

They’ll be telling me what I ought to be watching, next. /Rant

But seriously, people, we ought to be permitted to experience what we want, when and where and on whatever platform we want, marketing buzz be damned. And yes, that’s what it’s about. Disgruntled marketing types trying to tell us how to think. If their business model is failing, that’s their problem.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

I was trying to remember

Netflix thinks it has performed a noble act by releasing the entire season en masse, but it has actually wreaked havoc on the best part of television: talking about television.

I’ve been thinking about this statement because I recognize nothing in it. I was trying to remember the last time that I was involved in, or even overheard, a serious watercooler discussion about a TV show. I think it was right around 1983. I don’t think Netflix had anything to do with that.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: I was trying to remember

I’ve been thinking about this statement because I recognize nothing in it.

I think it’s a personality type thing. For many people (primarily extroverts) talking and interacting about a TV show is one of the primary draws of that show. For others (primarily introverts like me) unless the conversation has something to do with deep intellectual concepts behind the show I’m not particularly interested.

Also, I’d only go to the water cooler to get a cheap plastic cone of water, certainly not to talk about TV shows or anything else. So maybe I’m not the best representative =).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: I was trying to remember

Yes, it’s certainly a personality thing. But I’m still surprised that I don’t even overhear such conversations. I overhear lots of conversations about non-work subjects. TV shows are just never one of the topics.

Perhaps it’s a regional thing, though, or the fact that I’ve spent my life working around various flavors of geeks. Geeks seem to be more likely to have actual hobbies and talk about things relating to those.

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