How Netflix and Other Streaming Services are Changing TV

Written by Oriana Page

Close your eyes and think of a time before Netflix, when TV broadcasters dictated what you watched and when you watched it. Ask anyone and they would say that the freedom Netflix and other streaming platforms allow you to watch what you want when you want and where you want is a million times better, but is it really? 

In this article I am going to be exploring which is better: streaming or broadcast television.  

Binge Watching
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Netflix is binge watching. Someone sleep deprived sitting on the sofa with a half eaten bowl of popcorn looking disheveled has become a synonymous symbol of Netflix. But binge watching can actually massively change the experience of watching TV. For example, when shows are released once a week, you watch the show and then the ‘Next week’ preview, this builds a lot of suspense and anticipation. When you binge watch you lose this element. Netflix shows have completely ditched the next time segment, because they know if it ends on a cliffhanger, you'll just watch another episode, even if that means staying up till 4 AM. (Kruger’s and Karmakar 2015) state that binge watching can have a negative effect on your health, which can be for all sorts of reasons. (Herbert 2020) says that when he binge watched Breaking Bad, it had a detrimental effect on his health, making him feel nervous and struck with an overwhelming feeling of anticipation. It is important to note that although Herbert experienced these side effects, binge watching was still something he wanted to do. He made the choice to continue watching. I think that this is an unconscious decision a lot of us make. 

Watershed is an imaginary line in the sand that dictated when a show could play. This line acted as a rough guideline for when adult TV would be playing. Watershed was on at 9PM. (Hogg 2017) says broadcasters assume at this time that young children would be in bed and the adults would be ready to start watching TV. With streaming services, this is totally gone. Netflix shows drop overnight, and then you are free to watch these at any time that suits you. They do have age ratings on them, so parents know they aren't child friendly. 

Broadcasting Leads to Family Time
If you know a show is on at a certain time and you don’t want to miss it, you make sure you’re home. I have fond memories of my family watching the BBC period drama Merline together. I think it was on at 6pm on a Saturday, and we watched it religiously. It became a nice tradition. Binge watching isn't a tradition, it's a nice experience, and definitely provides bonding time, but as more of a one off experience as opposed to a weekly thing. (Beddington 2017) refers to the TV as “a flat screened family therapist”, and as “The only wholesome family time we get most days”.  Contrastingly, according to (Schroder 2015), feelings of loneliness and depression were linked to watching TV. 

The Experience of a Show
When watching a show once a week, like for example, the teen drama Riverdale, which despite only being available to UK audiences on Netflix drops its episodes weekly, the show lasts a lot longer. Riverdale starts its season around September and ends roughly in May. Granted, there are lots of breaks in riverdale, random two week breaks, sometimes even a 3-4 week break around the holidays. But because of this, you’re enjoying Riverdale for a long time, around 9 months to be exact. And that means you only have a 3 month gap between the end of the season and the new season. Now let’s take for example, the show YOU. The show dropped all of its episodes on Boxing Day, and became a massively popular post-Christmas binge. You had 10 episodes and a lot of people watched it all in one day. YOU is wildly popular and has already been renewed for a season 3, but now fans that watched it in a day will have to wait a whole year for the next installment.  (Darcy 2019) states that those who binge watched a show remembered less and didn't enjoy it as much as those who watched the show weekly. 

Made to be Binged
Now a lot of shows are made to be binged. Stranger Things was designed to be watched in its entirety on the first day. It dropped on the 4th of July, which was also when the show was set. YOU was also meant to be binge watched. Before it moved to Netflix, it originally aired on Lifetime, and did not do well. Netflix had the right to it for the UK, but when Lifetime ditched it and Netflix picked it up, it did amazingly, and is now one of Netflix’s most successful shows. (Page 2020) states that the success of YOU was largely due to the release date. YOU was made to be binge watched and by releasing it on Boxing Day, consumers were off work, the crazy stress of Christmas had just finished and the whole family was there and ready to be entertained. (Page 2020) also went on to say that another reason YOU is better binged is because all the events take place in a close time frame. This is as opposed to a show that has 22 episodes and lasts the course of the TV season, with themed episodes to coincide with the events eg: a Valentine’s Day episode on Valentine’s Day. 

So both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, but what's more cost effective? With television, there is the standard freeview package, but if you want better channels, you have to pay for those. Let's say you're a fan of crime channels, your teenage daughter loves Comedy Central, your husband is a massive sports fan, your son loves movies, and your young ones are addicted to Disney Channel. You’re probably going to want an entertainment package, a sports package, a movie package, and a kids package. And this can get expensive costing £89 a month. Netflix is £9.99 a month, but it probably doesn't have your favourite show, so you end up purchasing cable TV as well, and it starts to add up. 

Catch up gives audiences the best of both worlds: you can only watch it once a week, but when you watch it is up to you. Catch up and recording shows was kind of like an early version of binge watching. You could record a few episodes, wait and watch them all in one evening. 

UK vs America
There's a big difference between English television and American television. There’s a lot of American shows that don't air in England, on broadcasting or Netflix. This leads to people either buying a VPN, or just streaming illegally, which can be very bad for struggling shows. By streaming, you reduce their ratings, which leads to cancellation. But when they don’t air your favorite shows, and you can’t even buy it legally, desperate times cause desperate measures. The thing that is ruining TV the most is dependency on illegal sites. Although the government has gotten better at shutting them down, they are very much still available, they are easy and convenient, and come with access to content from all across the world. It becomes a very viable option.  In my opinion there is a real gap in the market for English consumers wanting to watch American series. 

Another thing I’d like to talk about is a show called Dynasty. Dynasty is a remake of the 80’s drama of the same name. And up until this year it aired on the CW and then dropped on Netflix the day after. However, this year, Dynasty airs weekly on the CW and instead of dropping weekly on Netflix, it's going to wait to the end and then drop the whole show. In my opinion, I think this is a bad move. 

Box Sets
Even Broadcast TV has a box set option on the menu. A lot of my favourite shows finished before I came to watch them. I had the entire show at my disposal, and definitely watched it more than once a week. For example, one of my favourite shows, Desperate Housewives, ran for 8 years. My family and I watched it in 2 months. I have watched a lot of shows this way. Another thing to note is when a TV channel has the rights to a completed show to syndicate. For example, the English TV channel VIVA had the rights to Scrubs, a show that ran for 8 years (9 if you count the abomination that was Scrubs Med school, which no one should count). VIVA would play two episodes at 9pm every weeknight. I loved this and watched it religiously. It took about a year to complete the show.

A 40-minute show has an hour TV slot. Why? Adverts. Over 20% of the time you spend watching that show is advertising, and that's not including any possible product placements. The general consensus on Adverts is that they get in the way of your precious TV time. However, there are some benefits. Firstly, you might actually see something you like. Advertising companies are very clever and slots cost a lot of money, so they want to make sure the target audience of the show is the same demographic their product is marketed towards. For example, a children’s show would be the optimal place to advertise a toy, geared mostly toward kids aged 6-11, as that is the kind of person who watches the show. Sometimes, during these ad slots, you'll see an advert for a TV show targeted at the same demographic. I personally like this. I'm very passionate about TV and am always looking for something new to watch. However I remember as a child, watching The Simpsons at around 5pm and an advert for a horror movie came on it absolutely terrified me. So I think it's massively important to make sure adverts are appropriate to the target audience. Personally, I think, general adverts for things like shampoo and new chocolate bars are fair game on Freeview. You’re not paying extra for these channels, so why not. But when you start paying for channels, I think advertising for their own shows is reasonable, but having long and frequent ad breaks is unreasonable. A plus side to Adverts is that they can help with the format of a show. When you go to the Theatre, there's an interval between the first and second act. By adding an ad break into TV shows it can help with the overall structure,  acting as a distinguishing feature between acts.

Product Placements
Product placements are when a brand pays a film or TV show to use their product on screen. For example, the sitcom Arrested Development has a product sponsorship from Burger King. The show is very self aware and pokes fun at this. I think that there's nothing wrong with the odd product placement, as long as it doesn't become too prominent and distract from the story. For example, the Coca-Cola product placement in Stranger Things is fine. Coca-Cola was featured in every episode of Stranger Things and even had tie-in events. 

So, why did I read this?
Well, it's something to consider next time you watch TV. After reading this you’ll be more aware of how you watch and the different experience you get. Everyone has a preference in how they watch TV. Mine personally is box sets. I like having all of it at my disposal to watch all at once or sporadically. Binging a whole season is okay, but personally I think a show with 12 or less episodes is bingeable, but a show with 22 episodes should be weekly. I find it odd to watch sitcoms weekly, and normally save them up to watch a good chunk all at once. To conclude, we are all different and have a lot of different preferences. And that's a good thing. 

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