From Network to Netflix: How the digital world influences our TV viewing habits.

Picture this: one Saturday evening, a family gathers together around the TV to share in watching their favourite entertainment show. They laugh, smile and talk about what they see and after watching, they prepare to wait another week until the next episode airs. But now? Well, thanks to internet on demand TV streaming services, the way in which the individual watches and even thinks about TV is forever changed. As one of these TV providers, Netflix, nears 100m subscribers, cable network subscriptions are down by 6.7m over the last five years.

Borne from this are many shifts in consumer behaviour, be this social, economic or ethical.

The birth of ‘binge-watching’

Following its evolution in 2007 into a TV streaming service, Netflix has not only claimed 51.8% of the TV streaming market, but has also created a ‘binge-watching culture’ amongst its users with 87% of subscribers admitting to watching episodes excessively. This phenomenon is arguably extremely detrimental to the sociable aptitude of the individual, with Netflix currently seeking a professional ‘binge-watcher’, encouraging and perhaps even labelling isolated behaviours as socially acceptable. TV streaming has also been established as a largely independent activity, easier than ever before with episode auto-playing — with frequent ‘binge-watching’ doubling the risk of sedentary related diseases.

But why is ‘binge-watching’ so widespread?

Perhaps, because TV streaming offers greater convenience than cable and Freeview. Streamed TV allows pausing, rewinding and also for users to watch episodes at their leisure, with the vast number of box sets available via the internet, often resulting in continuous, all day viewing. This is facilitated by increased availability of more powerful internet connections with more than 8 in 10 people going online daily to make use of this digital capacity.

Whilst the ease of connectivity is advantageous in many aspects of today’s digital society, surely it also proves a challenge if it is shifting behaviours from social to obsessive? Netflix has acknowledged its reliance on box sets particularly in the millennials demographic, inferring certain societal groups can be easily exploited in order to generate profits. Placing profits before mental and physical customer health must be considered an infringement of Netflix’s responsibility to act reliably and fairly towards all of its users, if ‘binge-watching’ is endorsed.

Convenience is key

Furthermore, such streaming services also offer TV archives filled with episodes, often uploading entire series’ at once, which otherwise, users may never be able to watch through network TV. Re-running episodes also impacts the nature of TV programmes themselves, as producers are increasingly able to rely on viewers’ knowledge of complex drama within subsequent series. Certainly, it is irrefutable that as people develop busier lifestyles, more people are on the move. With 81% of people now also having access to a smartphone, the internet is accessible from virtually any location as is visible in the graphic below.

(Mobile Web Use Locations by We Are Social, http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/wallblog)

Internet users can now retrieve TV streams whilst mobile, rather than wait until home with their set top box, thus, cementing the concept that for busy, modern day individuals, convenience is key. Offline downloading through many internet TV providers including Netflix and Amazon Prime offers further convenience, whilst another convenient element of streaming services is the omission of advertisements. But is this really beneficial all round, over the long run?

Advertisement free age

Whilst, advert free internet TV is an exciting prospect for streamers, it places substantial emphasis on the provider to attract a large and profitable user base to assist in recovering income forsaken from advertising. Netflix operates a low cost model with low profit margins, with average monthly subscription fees of £7.50 (10 times less than pay-TV networks not offering streaming) and although this transfers low costs to consumers, this could potentially cause a financial plateau for the business.

Similarly, this could also perhaps occur if TV series producers currently partnering with Netflix adopted their own streaming channels, bypassing the middle man. In this case, the provider would likely lose many users and this would be difficult to recover if profits are not available to be invested in other profitable avenues, such as original series’ which typically in the case of Netflix, attain critical acclaim.

Therefore, the question to be asked here is: should convenience and user impatience in the short term be able to impact the long term existence of a business? Similarly, with partnerships now being established between TV streaming providers and mass media conglomerates such as between Netflix and Disney, there is far more than just one TV provider’s revenue at stake when putting customer irritability first.

Ethical or invasive?

The nature of TV streaming providers in offering customised user experiences in return for low costs, inevitably raises the debate: is it sinister that a computer stores my viewing history and can therefore suggest what I may also like? With Netflix data warehouses holding around 10 petabytes of data, equivalent to over 130 years of HD TV streaming, I personally would answer, yes! Although Netflix uses much of this data to train algorithms in correctly categorizing available TV episodes, it is often also used to predict human behaviours and invasively generate suggestions for users, even producing comically poor results.

Similarly, Netflix has demonstrated questionable ethics in terms of its responsibility as an empowered digital entity via its employment of digital insertion, despite refusing commercial advertisements, by altering the product brand visible in several instances in accordance with its different international audiences.

Furthermore, with more users turning to TV streaming with the promise of flexibility at rock bottom fees, the transgression from this outlet to an even more economical source in illegal TV downloading and torrents must also be considered as a severe implication of the digital world on the viewing habits of the individual. Not only could this be encouraged by the convenience factor, but also, existing licensed providers such as Amazon Firestick have already fallen victim to the manipulation of a fully legal device into one which conceivably breaches Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights Laws — vastly overshadowing the positive implications on TV viewing that the digital world brings about.

Reflection

Participating in DigiSoc has given me a tremendous opportunity to engage with numerous themes, often those I have never encountered before, whilst also providing insight into many intriguing discussions surrounding accepting the digital world. This reflection will therefore, discuss my experiences and their resulting impact on my abilities and the knowledge I have attained afresh.

Although presenting to an audience is something I am familiar with, after many instances of doing so for other modules, presenting in Pecha Kucha style within DigiSoc was an entirely new trial for me. This presentation style dictates that only images are used to spark an audience, meaning all content is delivered verbally with slides advancing after 20 seconds, thus condensing the presentation length. Initially, I of course, could easily acknowledge why this method would be used to maintain audience attention, therefore, achieving a successful delivery.

Yet, when I began structuring my assignment concerning Lidl, I was daunted by the foreign technique of compressing my ideas into short, timed segments which I would vocalise at speed to my peers. Similarly, I also had limited understanding of correct and fair image attribution. Eventually I discovered that in spite of these trepidations, after drafting and reviewing my thoughts continuously, I was able to concisely present a comprehensive argument in a series of images alone, with these images being sourced from Creative Commons providers and then attributed appropriately.

Utilising Pecha Kucha already, now means that in future I could comfortably apply this skillset to other subject areas, for instance in supporting further academic or occupational presentation projects, or even in supporting the revision work of myself and others — summarizing key examined theories to one another — useful principally for my accountancy exams.

DigiSoc also extended to argument writing in unexpected forms such as blog posts in DigiSoc1. Again, this was a style of expressing my ideas that I was unfamiliar with, however, the increasingly informal style compared to academic essays, encouraged me to become thoroughly engrossed in how existing blog posts, especially those surrounding my chosen digital presence, Manchester United, were crafted. A large part of this process also centred upon researching the ideas of others, being able to interpret them and finally, responding by offering my own insights — a skill that I believe DigiSoc 1 has enabled me to enhance.

Not only this, but partaking in DigiSoc classes, has also empowered me to critically evaluate the views of others, assisting my understanding of the threats and opportunities a digital society poses and how these could be counterbalanced to achieve an optimal ‘phygital’ balance.

Overall, I have found The Digital Society module to be highly stimulating in terms of the materials provided and also how these materials have provoked me to independently inquire further into digital theories. Similarly, there is much that I have learnt from each assignment that I consider to be transferrable to other academic pieces, for instance, critically considering existing notions will no doubt, aid me in preparing my final year dissertation literature reviews.

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