Netflix is Taking Over the World. Should We Be Worried?

Netflix is great. But why its impact on our culture and democracy is worrisome.

Image from Netflix.

Netflix is the “The tech giant that everyone is watching” as The Economist has dubbed it. My friends and I revel at the inexhaustible content of this tech giant. And investors, on the other hand, cannot refrain themselves, but investing in this company that seems to have no perceivable limit for growth. Since 1997, the year in which it became to be, Netflix has yet staled in its growth and shows no sign of feebleness.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and the likes of them have in the past few months been the subjects of attacks, investigations and suspicions by lawmakers and denizens like you and I, for a plethora data breaches and unwanted information warfare. Yet, Netflix has been able to remain unscathed by such calamities.

I, for one, cannot imagine a world without Netflix. I can’t barely elicit from my memory the last time that I watched live TV, except for sport. Even for national news, I opt to watch short YouTube clips while burying myself in the dozens of headlines concerning the White House in online publications and forums.

That is, indeed, one of the many reasons that explain why Netflix has remained under the radar as opposed to its tech giant comrades: its purposeful decision to abstain from news and political-oriented contents. And, its business model is not predicated on the premise of selling advertisement, also known as “selling users’ data” to advertisers like Facebook and Google do, but is grounded on monthly-subscriber fees for access to thousands of contents.

Since its humble beginning as a DVD rental company, Netflix, has become the world’s largest internet service. Being often named as a leading cause of Blockbusters downfall in America’s commercial history, it once was a repository for Hollywood’s best contents and became a producer of award-winning TV series and movies. It is now accessible in 190 countries by 125 million subscribers, and as unseated Disney has the most valuable media company in the world.

With popular shows such as 13 Reasons Why, Orange the New Black, House of Cards, comedies specials featuring Dave Lachapelle and the likes of him, and soon to come, the Obamas; it comes to no surprise that it has beaten HBO for its total Emmy nominations in 2018.

Image from Netflix.

And it seems like Netflix does not want to stop here but wants to dominate the media industry by all means. The media Mogul plans on capitalizing its success by investing 12 to 13 billion of dollars on content creation. A budget that is much higher than any current Hollywood studios, and 3–4 billion dollars higher than its previous year’s expenditures in that regard.

And I cannot wait but to see what Netflix has in store in terms of contents.

The success of Netflix cannot only be explained by its great produced-shows and movies but its own-created technology that can cluster each of its viewers into one of its 2,000 taste clusters. Thus, making binge-watching almost addicting and inevitable.

Nonetheless, the success of Netflix can have some sour consequences on culture, here and abroad. As Netflix continues to grow, it becomes disquieting the perceived threat of the monopolization of TV. Meaning, if Netflix were to become the sole provider of entertainment, it would have in its hands the ability to shift culture, at will. Far from me, the idea that Netflix could become a state-tv, but its increasing power could the company the opportunity to be so if it wishes to be like that. I’m 99.99% this is less likely to happen; the possibility still exists.

Facebook, for instance, was once the modest and minute start-up that had only a few million users. But today, it has 2.19 billion monthly active users, accounting for more than 28% of the world’s population.

The lack of legislative oversight and the unprecedented growth of technology allowed Facebook to become the world’s largest advertising-selling firm with significant influence in the last American presidential election and Brexit. Such a phenomenon even contributed to the genesis of a new genre of political tribalism, never experienced before. Ergo, the lack of regulations in the era of technological singularity that we are experiencing has led to such a cataclysm in our culture. And Netflix could easily fall prey to the lack of objective governmental skepticism.

Furthermore, the rising number of media mergers such as AT&T buying Time Warner, could readily, right before our eyes, acquiesce a media entertainment industry to be under the jurisdiction of two to three media moguls.

Image from Variety.

Additionally, abroad, such as in Canada, there have been a growing and strident criticism of the americanization of its culture through Netflix.

The Canadian culture industries, for instance, observed that a proliferating number of Canadians are now watching more American programming than Canadian-created contents, leaving little for Canadians producers to thrive and for Canadian culture to blossom.

Degrassi’s cast. Image from the Hollywood Reporter.

A prime example of such a threat is Degrassi. It is a Canadian drama franchise that accelerated the stardom of Drake, the rapper, and featured the lives of Canadian teenagers as they navigate high school. It was recently sold to Netflix. Although the storyline remains in Canada, Canadians reviewers cannot help themselves but noticed the Americanisation of the show. For instance, the school student counsellor is seen counselling students to consider, only American universities, which is almost unheard and not practised in most Canadian high schools.

There is also a discontentment toward Netflix when it buys the rights of foreign TV series and americanised it to such an extent, that any of trace of the foreign culture, in question, is removed, and whitewashing becomes the norm.

Death Note, for instance, is an Americanized version of Japanese popular anime saga that was stripped away from its culture origin, which made it famous in the first place, not only in Japan but also in the United States.

Netflix’s version took the leading role, which was occupied by an Asian male character in the original version and replaced it with a white male. This, in itself, created a significant backlash among viewers who were already complaining about the lack of Asian representation on American TV and the continued whitewashing in films, an overarching challenge in our society and political climate. All that, knowing how whitewashing has been linked to the creation of the unhealthy concept of racial inequality and beget racism.

Death Note. Image from the Verge.

At last, there seems to be also another effect of “Netflixation” in the world, that is the growth of entitlement. Though subtle as an impact as it is part of a growing influence of technology, Netflix ‘s business model is certainly not curtailing its rise.

Indeed, the tech giant’ secret ingredient is to provide content of choice at any time of the day, and wherever. However, it engenders an entitlement culture. That is a culture in which we as consumers are incapable of being patient.

For instance, when I was young, when I missed a TV show, I had to wait for the reruns or get the summary of it from a friend, with an attitude of wistfulness. Then, I would have to wait for the following’s week episode, awaiting with great suspense and excitement.With Netflix, I indulge myself in binge-watching as many shows as I can in my spare time, a behavior that, I must admit, hinders my productivity.

With all that being said, as an active supporter of Netflix, my hope is that regulators would not bat an eye away from ensuring the integrity of the media.

The reality is that technology is playing a big part in the way we bank, eat, live, and entertain ourselves. But we shouldn’t wait until a breach of data or anything of that sort to occur before we start asking ourselves the impact of Netflix and the consolidation and mergers of media giants will have on our culture and on our democracy.

As being vigilant is wiser than being sorry.