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Netflix at the Nexus

Content, Practice, and Production in the Age of Streaming Television

by Theo Plothe (Volume editor) Amber M. Buck (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XII, 244 Pages

Summary

Netflix’s meteoric rise as an online content provider has been well documented and much debated in the popular press and in academic circles as an industry disrupter, while also blamed for ending TV’s "Golden Age." For academic researchers, Netflix exists at the nexus of multiple fields: internet research, information studies, media studies, and television and has an impact on the creation of culture and how individuals relate to the media they consume. Netflix at the Nexus examines Netflix’s broad impact on technology and television from multiple perspectives, including the interface, the content, and user experiences. Chapters by leading international scholars in television and internet studies provide a transnational perspective on Netflix’s changing role in the media landscape. As a whole, this collection provides a comprehensive consideration of the impact of streaming television.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations and Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Netflix at the Nexus (Amber M. Buck / Theo Plothe)
  • Section I. Platform
  • Chapter 1. TV IV’s New Audience: Netflix’s Business Model and Model Spectators (Jana Zündel)
  • Chapter 2. Netflix, Imagined Affordances, and the Illusion of Control (Annette Markham / Simona Stavrova / Max Schlüter)
  • Chapter 3. The Emergence of Netflix and the New Digital Economic Geography of Hollywood (Luis F. Alvarez León)
  • Chapter 4. Lovemarked Distribution and Consumers’ Behavior: Netflix Communities Versus Piracy Users’ Conduct (Gabriele Prosperi)
  • Section II. Content
  • Chapter 5. Netflix and TV-as-Film: A Case Study of Stranger Things and The OA (Ana Cabral Martins)
  • Chapter 6. At the Fringes of TV: Liminality and Privilege in Netflix’s Original Scripted Dramedy Series (Jessica Ford)
  • Chapter 7. Programming Gendered Content: Industry, Post-feminism, and Netflix’s Serialized Exposition of Jessica Jones (Jason A. Smith / Briana L. Pocratsky / Marissa Kiss / Christian Rafael Suero)
  • Chapter 8. Netflix: Culturally Transformative and Equally Accessible (Kimberly Fain)
  • Chapter 9. From ViKi to Netflix: Crossing Borders and Meshing Cultures (Oranit Klein Shagrir)
  • Section III. Viewer Practices
  • Chapter 10. Transforming Media Production in an Era of “Binge-Watching”: Netflix’s Cinematic Long-Form Serial Programming and Reception (Sheri Chinen Biesen)
  • Chapter 11. Binge-Watching the Algorithmic Catalog: Making Sense of Netflix in the Aftermath of the Italian Launch (Fabio Giglietto / Chiara Checcaglini / Giada Marino / Lella Mazzoli)
  • Chapter 12. The Netflix Experience: A User-focused Approach to the Netflix Recommendation Algorithm (Daniela Varela Martínez / Anne Kaun)
  • Chapter 13. Do Spoilers Matter?: Asynchronous Viewing Habits on Netflix and Twitter (Theo Plothe / Amber M. Buck)
  • Chapter 14. “Are You Still Watching?”: Audiovisual Consumption on Digital Platforms and Practices Related to the Routines of Netflix Users (Vanessa Amália D. Valiati)
  • Contributors

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ILLUSTRATIONS AND TABLES

Illustration

Figure 2.1. Three forms of control contributing to the expected affordances of Netflix.

Tables

Table 11.1. Codebook of tweets.

Table 11.2. Distribution of tweets in the dataset by codes.

Table 11.3. Codeset for the analysis of the interviews.

Table 12.1. Overview of the participants.

Table 13.1. Language of #HouseofCards tweets.

Table 13.2. Word frequency count.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

An edited collection is the product of many, and we would first like to thank our authors for their tireless work writing and researching this scholarship and for entrusting us with their scholarship to include in this collection. We’re honored for the opportunity to work with all of you and to publish your stellar work.

We would also like to thank the entire team at Peter Lang, and especially Kathryn Harrison and Erika Hendrix for the faith in this collection and their assistance through the publication processes.

Thanks also goes to Dr. Kathryn Montgomery at American University for her mentorship and professional guidance. It took many days of 500 words each to get this book published, and she set us on the right path.

Finally, we would like to recognize the Netflix binges that brought you this book. Among the series that inspired us: The West Wing, House of Cards, Jessica Jones, The British Baking Show, Frasier, Voltron: Legendary Defender, Archer, Samurai Champloo, and the 72 Most Dangerous Animals of South America.

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INTRODUCTION

Netflix at the Nexus

Amber M. Buck and Theo Plothe

When Netflix launched its DVD rental by mail business on April 14, 1998, there were few indications that the company would win an Emmy in 2013 for Television Directing, for David Fincher’s “Episode 1” of House of Cards. At the time, the home entertainment media landscape was dominated by video rental brick and mortar stores like Blockbuster and cable television. Netflix’s move first to a monthly subscription model and second to online video streaming capitalized on technological changes and infrastructure upgrades like broadband to innovate the film, television, and technology industries in ways that are still evolving. Netflix has been praised as the future of television (Auletta, 2014) and as “the most feared force in Hollywood” (Villarreal & James, 2016), while also decried as the end of “TV’s Golden Age” and blamed for ushering in an era where “TV shows may be briefer, lower-budget and filled with the kind of product-placement ads that audiences hate and advertisers pay for” (Thielman, 2016).

Netflix has become the industry-leading video streaming platform in a way that makes its name synonymous with the concept. It has inspired new terms for cultural practices, from “binge-watching” and “cord cutting,” to even “Netflix and chill.” These terms reflect the ways that Netflix has changed television viewers’ practices and connections with the media they consume. ← 1 | 2 → While DVD box sets first made this practice a possibility, Netflix has enabled more viewers to watch more television programs on a single loop. Having access to a vast archive of syndicated and original content available on a multitude of devices—from smart TVs and game consoles to desktop computers, tablets, and mobile phones—has allowed consumers to more fully sever their ties to a broadcast TV model, including appointment television, and cable providers themselves.

Through its original content, Netflix is also innovating the form of television itself. Rather than episodic storytelling told week-by-week, Netflix’s distribution model allows for long-form programming, with one narrative told across eight- or thirteen-hour episodes assumed to be watched in rather quick succession. This structure eliminates the need for title sequences, recaps, and other repetition devices to remind viewers of previous episodes and events. No longer tied to advertisers or to a television broadcasting schedule, narratives can also break from the tyranny of the 21-minute or 42-minute episodes with built-in commercial breaks. Bianchini and Jacob de Souza (2017) discussed this flexibility in their analysis of Arrested Development’s fourth season, which was produced exclusively for Netflix and experimented with many of these narrative structures. While Arrested Development was an early example of the possibilities in moving beyond broadcast and cable television, the implications of this change are only just beginning to be felt.

Researching Netflix

For scholars, Netflix also sits at the nexus of multiple areas of work: television studies, internet research, and information studies. Academic research on Netflix has focused primarily on algorithmic culture and Netflix’s recommendation engine (Gomez-Uribe & Hunt, 2016; Hallinan & Striphas, 2016), as well as binge watching practices (Jenner, 2016; Pittman & Sheehan, 2015). Other work has emphasized the connections between Netflix and net neutrality policy (Davies, 2016), as well as the company’s place in the home entertainment industry (McDonald, 2016). Continuing to explore the impact of Netflix and its implications for culture, economics, and technology is important to develop frameworks through which to better understand its importance on technology and culture.

A more recent development is Netflix expansion into international markets. In early 2016, Netflix expanded to 130 new countries at once, making it a global media company, yet one with localized content for each market ← 2 | 3 → (Barrett, 2017). The company aggressively blocks VPN traffic in order to ensure that Netflix users only see content licensed for that particular region (Greenberg, 2016). The streaming service, then, provides a different experience for individuals in different countries. When the fifth season of House of Cards premiered worldwide on May 31, 2017, Middle Eastern subscribers found the new season missing from their streaming devices. Due to negotiations regarding licensing agreements, Season 5 was not available in the Middle East until July 2 (Newbould, 2017). Netflix is currently available in 190 different countries across the globe, and the service occupies a different place among each country’s media landscape that also deserves further investigation.

Netflix as a Liminal Space

Netflix, as a platform, a company, and a distribution model exists in a liminal space, at the nexus of television and film, internet archive and home entertainment service, and content distributor and movie studio. Netflix is ultimately a product of convergence, a case study in the ways that digital media not only combine multiple analog media into one digital form, but also combine multiple industries into one company. Henry Jenkins (2006) described two types of media convergence: (1) technological, where different forms of content are presented through one medium and device; and (2) cultural, where fans follow content and stories across platforms and participate more directly in creating those narratives (pp. 10–12). Netflix certainly reflects the results of technological convergence, where previous analog film and broadcast television content are combined digital video and accessed in digital streaming form through a variety of devices.

Through their concept of “remediation,” Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (1999) described the way that new technologies are first understood and conceptualized through older technologies; for example, automobiles as horseless carriages and word processors as glorified typewriters. While new technologies first approximate and innovate features of older technologies, they soon begin to move beyond the frameworks of those older technologies, innovate new features, and become less connected to the older media form. Netflix in the current moment is still recognizable as all of these entities mentioned above: film studio, television producer, home entertainment distributor, internet archive, and provider of web video, films, and television programs. Yet through both the company’s innovations and the continued blurring of content, these different categories may soon cease to have any ← 3 | 4 → meaning. The digital medium and this process of remediation have exploded constraints for both form and content; stories on Netflix may last 12 minutes or eight hours, and some content produced by Netflix might be nominated for Emmys or for Academy Awards. Netflix may be accelerating a situation in which former genres, categories, and constraints may no longer be appropriate. This collection examines this liminal quality of Netflix as a platform and entertainment company and broadens the current discussion to consider Netflix’s continued impact on technology, television, film, and the internet. The chapters we have collected here present critical and empirical studies from international scholars with diverse perspectives. We’ve divided the book into three sections: investigations of the Netflix platform, its content, and finally, studies of Netflix user practices and experiences.

Platform

Contributions in the first section considers Netflix as a technology and a platform. José Van Dijck and Thomas Poell define platforms as “online sites that facilitate and organize data streams, economic interactions, and social exchanges between users” (p. 2). These chapters consider how Netflix acts as a platform and how its distribution model and interface design position its users.

Jana Zündel examines the Netflix audience to consider how the site attracts and appeals to viewers. Its content, both syndicated and original and from both film and television, is from a wide array of sources and perspectives and appeals to a wide range of tastes that gives the site a heterogeneous audience. While Netflix operates on a subscription model, it avoids the narrowcasting concerns of niche, premium cable channels. Zündel argues that through the diversity of Netflix catalog and original content, Netflix considers its audience “a mass of different individuals” instead of one group with distinct tastes.

Annette Markham, Simona Stavrova, and Max Schlüter use different conceptual definitions of control to examine how Netflix allows and constrains users’ control through interface elements. These authors argue for an idea of control as a “sensemaking device” to analyze interactions in heavily-mediated environments.

Luis F. Alvarez León takes a critical geography perspective in considering the ways that Netflix rearticulates economic geographies of the entertainment and technology industries. León argues that Netflix has globalized the American film and television industry in a new way, as well as exposed American ← 4 | 5 → audiences to more international content. These new technological systems reshape the spatial configuration of markets and create new distribution systems, geographically speaking.

In Chapter Four, Gabriele Prosperi turns to the Italian market to explore the ways that Netflix disrupted an entire sector of file-sharing platforms that operated in a gray area between piracy and legitimate video streaming and file sharing services. Prosperi notes that indexing sites for illegal download services use visual design and branding as a “lovemark” (Jenkins, 2006) in order to look legitimate and appealing. Netflix has used the same tactics for branding and identification, showing how viewers can conceive of a distribution system as a brand with a certain ethos. Prosperi compares the aspects of both distribution systems and their reliance on archives and indexicality to explain the prominence of both formal and informal distribution systems in the Italian context.

Content

In the second section, we turn to an examination Netflix content, both in the types of stories told in Netflix original programs, as well as the nature of that content’s serialized narrative. These scholars consider the types of stories that Netflix privileges, as well as how its streaming model changes serialized programming.

Ana Cabral Martins examines Stranger Things and The OA, both Netflix originals, to explore the impact of longform storytelling to the television landscape. Serialized television blends boundaries with film, as these stories are often called “long movies.” Martins also notes that Netflix itself organizes content in terms of seasons rather than episodes. As an entire season is usually released at one time, and the result is an 8-hour or 13-hour long narrative. Martins explores the way that both Stranger Things and The OA bridges the gap between film and television in terms of narrative content and length.

Details

Pages
XII, 244
ISBN (PDF)
9781433161872
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433161889
ISBN (MOBI)
9781433161896
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433161865
Language
English
Publication date
2020 (January)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XII, 244 pp., 1 b/w ill., 6 tables

Biographical notes

Theo Plothe (Volume editor) Amber M. Buck (Volume editor)

Theo Plothe is Assistant Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at Savannah State University. He received a PhD in communication from American University, and his work has been published in G|A|M|E and Kinephanos Journal. Amber M. Buck is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama. She received a PhD in English and writing studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and her work has been published in Research in the Teaching of English and Computers and Composition.

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