Legend has it that Reed Hastings first concocted the idea for Netflix after he was forced to pay $40-worth of late fines to Blockbuster after returning a DVD of Apollo 13 well past its deadline. Whilst the legitimacy of this story remains up for debate, the fact that a company now-evaluated at almost $9 Billion was quite possibly birthed by a single man’s mild annoyance at a $40 late-fee is almost too good not to be true.
Founded in 1997, where it first started gaining traction as a DVD by mail service (the 90s were truly a radical time, man), Netflix has since grown into one of the largest online streaming services in the world. Operating in over 190 countries and reportedly providing its content to over 93 million subscribers worldwide, it’s pretty hard to find someone nowadays who doesn’t either: A) Actually have Netflix, or, B) At least have access to their mate’s account so they can fuel their worrying House of Cards addiction.
Although competitors have risen via the guise of Amazon Prime and their Grand Tour-touting streaming service, Netflix’s stranglehold on internet users has been pretty difficult to loosen. Having entered the content-production industry in 2013 with the aforementioned Macchiavellian Political drama, House of Cards, Netflix has since greatly expanded the number of original productions it offers in order to ensure that viewers keep coming back for more.
In fact, Netflix released roughly 126 original series or films in 2016 - more than any other network or cable channel - and equally invested over $5 Billion into the creation of original content over that same time-span. That's a pretty big investment, though it hardly seems a risky one considering how Netflix has not only changed what we watch, but has even begun to affect how we watch television. According to a 2013 Nielsen survey, more than 60% of Americans said they "binge-watch" shows, and nearly 8/10 Americans have used technology to watch their favourite shows within their own time schedule. No longer do you have to wait until 10pm to catch the latest episode of whatever your latest addiction is; with Netflix you can simply mainline 5 seasons of that bad boy straight into your hungry retinas.
Netflix has become such a phenomenon that the phrase “Netflix and Chill” has even entered the English lexicon and somehow amalgamated into a not-so-subtle code for sexual intercourse. It’s gotten to the point that when you ask someone you’re romantically interested in whether they want to come round yours in order to “Netflix and Chill”, it's almost as if you're giving them a direct indication that you want to watch the first 20 minutes of Julia Roberts faffing about in Eat, Pray, Love before you get down to knocking boots. (Do, however, take note, dear reader, as agreeing to a “Netflix and Chill” session does not count as consent, nor does it mean that your intended muse definitely wants to scuff their Timberlands against your hard, cold, and leathery Doc Martens.)
In the modern age, asking someone to “go to the movies” with the intention of giving them a shadowy smooch has been replaced by the ol’ nudge-nudge-wink-wink of “Netflix and Chill”, though that’s not the only facet where the film industry’s dominance of audiences has started to be challenged. With expensive ticket prices and even more expensive food concessions (fuck off with your £5 popcorn), Cinemas are simply struggling to draw in members of the public the way they were used to. It also doesn’t help their cause that Netflix has also started to prize away some of Hollywood’s biggest stars for their exclusive original productions in 2017.
The upcoming War Machine, slated for release later this March, is a great example of Netflix’s ever-increasing attraction to Hollywood's A-listers. Directed and written by David Michôd, the film stars a cavalcade of talent including Brad Pitt, Anthony Michael Hall, Topher Grace, Will Poulter, Tilda Swinton, Jonathan Ing, and Ben Kingsley. And the best part about it? You can watch it from the comfort of your own bed with the 50p bag of popcorn you bought from Tesco. Cracking.
I, for one, am not advocating the death of traditional cinema. I can personally think of nowhere I’d rather be than a comfy cinema seat, immersing myself in movie magic, with the very image of the titanic film industry slowing approaching an iceberg of destruction being one that fills me with complete and utter dread. However, it is difficult nowadays with such high-profile talent like Brad Pitt and Will Smith (who we’ll see on our laptop screens in the David Ayer directed, Bright) jumping ship to Netflix’s stable bow to ignore the mounting influence that institutions such as Netflix are having upon the way we consume media.
Now, I don’t claim to know what state the film industry will be in within the next decade, but I can almost guarantee that the pressures created by companies like Netflix will no doubt play a large part in shaping the future of entertainment as we know it. For better or worse. As it stands, I’ve got 2 more episodes of Riverdale left to watch tonight before my life once again loses meaning. So I’d best be off.