Skip to main content

The Netflix Revolution: How a quirky start-up changed the face of entertainment.

Molly Jackson explores the evolution of Netflix. Considering how the quirky start-up has had a lasting impact upon the entertainment industry.

BY Molly Jackson

Twenty years ago, Netflix was merely just a DVD rental by mail service. A crucial rival to Blockbuster, once everyone’s favourite video rental store that sadly came to a demise in 2011. Netflix could have easily followed Blockbuster’s doomed path, but twenty years on the platform has ultimately changed the whole landscape of the entertainment industry. Ten years after its development in 2007, Netflix held 7.48 million subscribers, jumping ahead a further ten years Netflix subscriptions reached almost 118 million. Viewers can now watch Netflix on video game consoles, phones, iPads or Kindles, entertainment is literally at our fingertips. The service has expanded to 190 countries, and their original shows soared as they received an impressive 91 nominations at the 2017 Emmy awards. Netflix played a large part in Blockbusters demise but has continued to take on key players in the entertainment industry as the company progressed from a quirky start-up to the media giant it is today.

“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”

Ted Sarandos

In 2007 Netflix introduced streaming, the service that we all know and love today. The ability for users to instantly watch TV shows and movies on their personal computers and laptops changed the way we viewed television. Not being tied down to a schedule meant viewers could now watch shows and films where and whenever they wanted to, and with the feature of entire series published at once the binge-watching phenomena soon began. No longer having to wait until 8 pm on a Friday evening to watch your favourite show on television created new freedom for entertainment viewing. However, that ‘next episode’ button soon becomes a dangerous game when its 3 am and you’re nine episodes into the new series of Orange Is the New Black. Netflix not only changed the consumption of television; Netflix changed the popular production methods of entertainment. In 2013 Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos, in a profile with GQ, shared that, “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”. The success of Netflix grew as more and more networks licensed shows, however, to truly stay in the game, to reach HBO’s level, Netflix had to start making their original content.

Netflix granted directors and producers more creative freedom and control than they could ever have with the deemed ‘mainstream’ networks and in 2013 the company released its first original series, popular political drama House of Cards. Sarandos told executive producer David Fincher “There are a thousand reasons for you not to do this with Netflix, but if you go with us, we’ll commit to two seasons with no pilot and no interference.” Fox Fincher could not turn down the creative freedom Netflix was offering him. The show went on to be a success, and Netflix did not stop there. They have since churned out original after original, striking gold with the likes of Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, Jessica Jones and The Crown. Even with Netflix’s expanding catalogue, Sarandos states how, “The more successful we get, the more anxious I get about the willingness of the networks to license their stuff to us”. Netflix wants to produce many more originals this year, following anxieties that other networks will keep up the pace with their original content. The company is fast becoming an essential producer of high-quality content if not already considered so.

The streaming giant has continued to disrupt the industry and ensure their future success through recently acquiring two significant players in television. Netflix has signed exclusive deals with prolific producers Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, luring them away from their long-time homes with ABC and Fox. Rhimes was behind some of ABC’s greatest hits including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. While Murphy has helped to establish Fox as the significant network, it is today, with shows such as Nip-Tuck, Glee, American Crime Story and American Horror Story. Netflix is not just outbidding competitors for content anymore, but for the talent behind those shows and it seems they aren’t the only ones making this move. Chasing up and coming talent may be becoming a trend between premium streaming sites evident through the Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman leaving AMC last year to sign an overall deal with Amazon Prime Video.

Netflix has without a doubt changed the entertainment landscape, but they are also playing a large part in helping to change the landscape of women in entertainment. This year women’s rights movements have prevailed, as the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns have not only sparked conversation about the extensive sexual harassment that exists within the traditional entertainment industry but has also opened a dialogue about the pay disparity, treatment and representation of women in film and television. This year’s Oscars may have seemed a triumph for women, Rachel Morrison was the first ever female to be nominated for cinematography for her work on Netflix’s Mudbound and Greta Gerwig was nominated for best director for Ladybird. However, while on the one hand a victory, it is also quite disheartening that in 2018 this is the first time in history that a female cinematographer has been nominated for such an award. Netflix indeed is not the only company hiring more women both on and off screen, but they are certainly making a conscious effort to reduce the gender disparity. Cindy Holland, Vice President of original content at Netflix, notes Netflix’s efforts ” we continue to increase our rate of employment of women both in front of and behind the camera.” Netflix has produced various successful shows that centre around the lives of women, shows with leading and complex female leads, such as Orange Is the New Black, Glow and Jessica Jones. In fact, every episode in the second series of Jessica Jones was directed by a woman.

“We no longer use the term network. We talk about platforms that deliver content. We are definitely in a different TV universe now.”

Warren Littlefield

Netflix may be extremely popular, but it certainly has its competition. People in entertainment are acknowledging that the industry is changing. Warren Littlefield, the executive producer of The Handmaid’s Tale, has stated “We no longer use the term network. We talk about platforms that deliver content. We are definitely in a different TV universe now.”. Cable networks such as HBO now offer their streaming service HBO Now, while Disney has publicly spoken about their plans to take their content off Netflix to use in their streaming service.  Disregarding networks, Netflix faces direct competition from other streaming sites such as Hulu and Amazon Prime video. Hulu has mainly relied on licensing shows from popular networks but has recently jumped on the bandwagon creating original content. Though the site may have less original material than Netflix, it was showered with success last award season for The Handmaid’s Tale. Amazon Prime video is also catching up to Netflix with over 80 million users and an Oscar-winning film of Manchester by the Sea.

It appears that Netflix’s answer to staying in the game is simply to throw vast amounts of money at an abundance of original content. A Variety headline from earlier this year reads, ‘Netflix Eyeing Total of About 700 Original Series in 2018’. They are planning to spend $8 Billion on new content this year, but I fear they may run the risk of just throwing money at projects no one else wants. Yes, the company have had a lot of successes, but it would be naive to believe that their model hasn’t come without its flaws. Not all projects have been received as well as the likes of Stranger Things, meaning Netflix has seen its fair share of flops and cancellations in the past few years, including Hemlock Grove, Girlboss and the highly anticipated Naomi Watts drama Gypsy. Netflix may be focusing too much on quantity while the quality of their original content could suffer. It is not Netflix’s extensive library that can keep them comparable to the likes of HBO but rather the quality of the shows they produce. At this moment in time, Netflix is still dominating the streaming world, and I highly doubt that it will get pushed into the background any time soon. Nonetheless, just because Netflix initiated the change in the industry does not mean it won’t need to fight to stay in the universe that it created.