NETFLIX, like most disruptors that we get to hear about, has had a pretty good run.
In over 20 years, it’s gone from the world’s first online DVD rental outfit to an entertainment goliath sporting close to 140m paying customers. It now dictates content instead of recycling it. Netflix is and will be, for entire generations, a panacea to our voracious appetites for consumption media.
But last week’s announcement of the US$1 and US$2 price hikes across basic and premium plans, respectively, marked the largest (but not only) jumps in their pricing since the inception of its streaming service.
Now’s a good a time as any to survey if other media giants have finally caught up in delivering video-on-demand, and if we have an unprecedented situation: can we even entertain the thought of switching out from Netflix?
Many of us will simply stick to the service, loyal creatures that we are. A Streaming Observer survey – the only data point we have post-announcement so far – corroborates. They rustled up the opinion of 607 American customers (via online survey), and of that number, a meagre 3 per cent indicated they’d be dropping the service for sure.
24 per cent are on the fence and will weigh the options. However, an overwhelming 60 per cent simply aren’t batting an eyelash.
Only 3 per cent of some 607 respondents indicated they’d drop Netflix following the US$1/$2 hikes.
Beyond the current lack of alternatives, we’d wager a guess why: large swathes of the userbase have simply grown up with the platform since it’s House of Cards days. Those were dark times indeed. Tech-inclined folk or not, many were feeding the TV series addiction illegally. Remember battling dubious, malware-infested sites and torrents just for a fix? We do.
Then Netflix dawned, slick and streamlined, with an ad-free experience that delivered content so seamlessly it almost feels a feeding tube for serial binge-watchers (damn you, Next Episode). We bit, and we bit hard. To some, a good day was clambering home, putting on a hot shower, scarfing a delivered meal down, then letting the opiate flow through a device of our choice. Sometimes we’d be abetted by an alcoholic beverage or two.
War for the wallet
But no fountain of joy can last forever, and the business has been operating at a grievous loss just to grow a userbase. The firm’s recently issued US$2b (more) of junk bonds, swwelling that crimson ledger to an excess of US$20b.
The investors weren’t really fazed. Netflix’s reach is pretty unprecedented and growing strong – and it hasn’t even begun selling ad slots yet. Top-tier talents (Sandra Bullock and Bird Box the latest of these) are joining an already stellar cast whose entire careers were forged in red and black. But the bill’s coming due for the costs of production, and we’ll have to pick up the tab soon.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not balking. Dollar for dollar, Netflix still ranks among the most affordable and value-for-money activities out there, especially in Singapore where we pay upwards of triple for social lubricants such as alcohol or late-night nosh. We don’t even have access to many of the competitor’s services yet. But come they will, like sharks to water, and here’s how they plan to win you over.
Disney‘s a brand that some think we can leave behind. Recall, then the S-tier franchises they’ve pocketed casually over the last decade: the Marvel and Star Wars universes. Who’s to say which big names they’ll snipe next, or what manner of exclusivity they’ll accord the upcoming Disney+ platform?
Promising to be substantially cheaper than a Netflix plan, the 2019-slated service will have a huge library to work with and is without a doubt going to force our hand when they drop something like Toy Story 5 and 6 on stream only. As a kicker, kiss the Avengers, Rey, your fave Pixar gems and all the oldschool cartoon goodness goodbye as Disney yoinks them off Netflix sometime this year. Yikes.
As if Disney’s tendrils aren’t insidious enough, they’ve got fingers in the Hulu pie as well. While Hulu primarily operates in the States, there’s no telling if and when their strong stable of content (South Park, The Big Bang and Young Sheldon franchises, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel) will break into the scene, offering us a real alternative to our incumbent cable TV providers.
Giants such as HBO Now and (Amazon) Prime Video have moved into the space as well. They’ve even taken notes from the Netflix playbook by borrowing some of Hollywood’s top talent and turning them into TV fixtures – we’re pretty sure Julia Roberts hasn’t done a series ever, but the chatter as to whether she’ll reprise the role in Season 2 of the acclaimed thriller Homecoming will be telling of the platform’s next moves.
And then there’s Apple – the lurking entity, which already quietly peddles entire movies at the cost of two Netflix subscriptions per blockbuster film via iTunes. As with most things Apple, plans are shrouded in secrecy, but they’ve dropped some serious cash to reel in heavyweights in content development. Think J.J. Abrams, Oprah herself and the recently-redeemed M. Night Shyamalan. They’ve even snatched Jennifer Aniston following her post-Dumplin’ success.
Still the best chill
Yet no one’s going to discount the enormous lead Netflix has on its contemporaries. The company’s so deeply ingrained in popular and web culture that it’s capable of spawning memes across the globe. It’s so confident in its offerings that references across entirely different series are dropped once in a while – a meta touch that young audiences have taken to.
They’re also pushing the envelope in content development in concept (if you haven’t checked out the choose-your-own-adventure Black Mirror “ep” Bandersnatch, it’s high time to) as well as across cultures (Sacred Games, done in India, is mind-blowing stuff).
Emphatic staples like Narcos and Stranger Things are not going to be easily replicated anytime soon, though it’s worth noting that other platforms are bringing the heat; Hulu beat Netflix to the punch by breaking a Fyre festival documentary three days earlier, though the former drew flak for glorifying the festival founder’s descent into delusive madness.
Yet, so long as “Netflix and chill” sounds less voodoo than “Huluing around”, and these newfangled services get trussed up while opening shop in Singapore (right now only Prime flies its flag here) it looks like we’ll be seeing our national colours on the intro screen for some time to come.