Recently, I was hit with the devastating news that Jeopardy was going to be removed from the Netflix library later this month. For those unaware of Jeopardy because you’re using your Netflix for the right reasons, it is a beloved American institution (in other words, a quiz show) where the format is to provide your answer in the form of a question. Having binged my way through two thrilling seasons, accumulating a meagre five correct answers over my totalled efforts, I lament to be witnessing its demise. But as a show originally formatted for broadcast television, Jeopardy, and so many other shows designed like it, seem almost archaic to a contemporary audience. As a result, streaming services aren’t hesitating to usher these shows through the door in favour of originals from their own production studios, with far more unique and high-reward storytelling – and no expensive rights negotiations to consider. These rapid changes are redefining how we consume television, and the encroaching reality is that this transition is occurring faster than any of us can imagine.
The ‘Netflix Originals’ portfolio is expanding rapidly each year and is a financial investment that is set to increase exponentially as the company sheds more and more licensed content back to its competitors. Last year, Fortune reported that Netflix released an astonishing 88% more original content over part of 2018 than it did during the same span of 2017. The Verge reports that “Netflix estimated it would spend $8 billion on creating original content in 2018 alone, with the goal that in the next few years, half of the company’s available content would be original titles”. Yet the company’s diversification isn’t justified by any current viewing figures. “Most viewers spend the bulk of their Netflix time watching programming Netflix didn’t make itself,” Fortune claims. “Forty-two percent of subscribers also watched little or no original Netflix content”.
However, one could argue that Netflix has since raised the standard of its original content, aspiring to become recognized for producing premium-quality content. Yet the price tag at which it has come by is worrying, and the fact that top contenders such as Amazon Prime and Disney Plus are also hunting the behemoth that is exclusive content, at the same financial cost, begs the question of why streaming services are so desperate to have content original to their own platform.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that entertainment conglomerates are seeking to provide an unparalleled streaming service, in order to increase their share of the cash-cow. Streaming services search for established industry stars to front their own originals, like David Letterman and even iron-fist Jeremy Clarkson, who manage to bring a loyal fanbase along with them. And with a wide array of other originals to cater for any viewing pleasure, fans would be left with little reason to leave, least of which having been done with their favourite star.
This, and the reality of high-cost licensing fees, accounts for Netflix’s cancellation of all its lacklustre, B-grade Marvel content. The rumour, reported by respected institutions like Vanity Fair and tabloid rags like NZ Herald alike, was this: Disney had tightened the chain. Marvel Studios (itself owned by Disney) will instead have its shows produced exclusively for the new Disney Plus streaming service. Disney themselves are prepared to put half a billion dollars towards original content for their new ambitious streaming project; what CEO Bob Iger repeatedly insists is “the highest priority of Walt Disney Co.” (reported by Variety). With that type of money flying around, Jeremy “What Anger Issues?” Clarkson won’t be the only celebrity stroking a pretty streaming cheque in the near future.
Of course, this begs the question of why the US government are slack to impose restrictions on this clearly spiralling industry. In the past, they have cut out the vertical integration of distribution services, in other words, preventing studios from owning the theatres they played their movies at (1948, United States v. Paramount Pictures). But since all that shows at theatres anymore are superhero movies (plus the odd Dwayne “Still At This” Johnson film which will shock people as being surprisingly good), the Supreme Court’s ruling fails to impose itself over streaming services sourcing content directly from their own studios. And without these restrictions, companies are at liberty to hoard ‘exclusivity rights’ over the library of content they host.
This provides the catalyst for a clear plummet in popularity of broadcast television. Increasing exclusivity rights with big studios result in filtering lower quality productions through to broadcast TV, which are destined to compete for time with perpetual ad and product placements, deeming whatever content is left unwatchable. This all spells out the imminent death of free-to-watch television. To imagine the adverse consequences would be reeling; our nation could survive nothing so devastating as if we managed to lose Lily the Big Save Furniture lady, but a cynic might say that the Christchurch earthquake gives us odds-on-favour. That’s not even to mention our national treasure Shortland Street. Chris Warner didn’t survive a plane crash, multiple explosions and raise a dozen children only to get replaced by a fucking James Acaster comedy special.
But if you’re heartless enough not to care about Lily and Chris Warner, what might make you believe otherwise is the abandonment of independent filmmakers and studios who helped launch these streaming platforms, and now unwillingly find themselves struggling to survive in this new and fast-expanding oligopoly. As IndieWire reports, Amazon Studios have already found themselves at the butt of criticism for abandoning the indie space; “there will be a first-time or second-time director whose relevant and urgent voice will struggle to find a home… the distribution landscape for discoveries becomes bleaker”.
Yet I’m willing to bet the reality is that for you and I, the notion that streaming services are ruining the way we watch television is incomprehensible. Content is no longer designed to be limited to half-hour packages, and writers are actually being afforded time to pace out their storytelling for greater dramatic impact. Producers are awarded desperately sought creative freedom, and granted budgets that could have made the Fyre Festival a success, all in the name of what harm: some media conglomerates trying to outdo one another? Streaming services have unequivocally changed the way we view television content for the better. We’re not leaving the golden age for television at all; we’re entering it.
I still haven’t watched James Acaster’s ‘Repertoire’. But that stands to mean nothing; you’ll probably find me watching it in the Craccum office this week. Why? Because you, I, and probably Chris Warner too, know that the Netflix Original tagline stands for “bitch, watch this, it’s… good?”.
And so for the time being, it remains that Jeopardy will be stepping down from the Netflix library in order to welcome another high-budget binge-worthy thriller with the coveted original tag. Is there anything you’re sad about that’s being taken off Netflix? Voice your concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org because hey, at least someone is offering to listen to them. And if you’re lucky, I might answer in the form of a question.
As of writing, Netflix NZ and Australia have renewed their license with Jeopardy! Remarkable.
The Verge article