The Netflix effect

We’re not big TV watchers. The cable box rarely gets turned on these days, and if it weren’t for live political debates and select sporting events, I’d cut the cord. In the 2005-2010 era, living alone, I experimented with cutting the cord, but ultimately brought it back during the 2008 election cycle that I didn’t want to miss, and later because Verizon made it more sensible to buy the Fios bundle. As the AppleTV platform has expanded its programming and usability, its garnered a greater and greater share of our TV viewing. Verizon gives us Showtime and HBO with their bundle, but it’s far more convenient to watch when and how we want through AppleTV (or Roku, etc).

Emily and I have developed a habit of focusing on one or two shows at a time. That seems like the right balance of time in front of a television screen and gives us adequate time to read and pursue other personal interests without TV taking over our lives. I was a Breaking Bad fanatic from Episode 1 by virtue of a close friend acting as Executive Producer so that was the first show we shared. On AMC, Breaking Bad began in 2008 in the TV/DVR era before "on demand" was a thing. By Season 4, on demand was a reality and that enabled millions of viewers to catch up and share in the fun. I believe Breaking Bad grew among the most of any series (10x) from start of episode one to the finale and I don’t think the data properly counts the time-lapsed nature of viewing today i.e. the fact that some people are still getting hip to the show, so it may be even more pronounced, though Variety mentioned this phenomenon in a 2013 article. Homeland on Showtime was the second series we enjoyed, and it was gripping through 3 seasons, but our interest waned a bit during season 4. HBO’s Game of Thrones is without parallel (with an average gross viewership of 18+ million, it seems others agree) and is the only show we simply must watch within 24 hours of each episode dropping. We’ve also enjoyed the dark and melodramatic Rectify on Sundance Channel (same producer as Breaking Bad) which reinvents "slow TV".

Recently however, our viewing focus has shifted almost exclusively to Netflix original programming. Narcos and Stranger Things are two of the better examples of TV drama that I can recall. Season one of Narcos was well timed for me, dropping shortly after I visited Medellin, where I became enchanted by the city and its people. Pablo Escobar is an extraordinarily interesting hero/villain character and you’d be hard-pressed for a better life story to tell. At its height, the Medellin cartel he led supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States, generating $22 billion a year. Escobar is considered the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated peak net worth of $30 billion when he was considered one of the 10 richest people in the world. Escobar was also elected to the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia and was responsible for the construction of many hospitals, schools, and churches in western Colombia, which gained him popularity, but began a vicious cycle of infighting and civil war with the US government playing a meddling role as aggressor. I digress, but it’s an awesome story and Narcos does a riveting job telling it.

Stranger Things is a more recent discovery, but another show that I can’t seem to binge watch for less than three episodes at a time. A period fiction drama set around a group of children in the 1980s and dealing with supernatural concepts and government conspiracy, this makes it naturally easy for me to relate to as both a child of the 80s and someone with a natural curiosity about the supernatural. It’s in many ways a long-awaited development of the ET theme - which my grandmother recently reminded me I saw twice and cried both times - and Steven Spielberg is an adviser on the show. The cast is brilliant and Winona Ryder is perfectly cast as a lead character.

The point of this post is that Netflix is killing it right now with their original programming. House of Cards was their first foray in to original programming and Orange is the New Black was next, but it appears the team over there is only getting better and better. With 46 million US subs (and 36 million overseas), they're already 10 million ahead of HBO. It’s become the first place we often go when we open AppleTV and that wasn’t true a year ago. Their autoplay feature, which launches the next episode 20 seconds after the prior one ends is a brilliant adaptation of online video usability principles and makes binge watching difficult to avoid when the programming is so good. Netflix is a business that has consistently reinvented itself and I’m increasingly interested to see where they go next.