TV | The rise and rise of Netflix

Not so long ago, it was a novelty in my family to be dispatched off to the video shop on a Friday night and be allowed to rent a film over the weekend. £2 a night, usually some sort of waiting list for the big releases and the frustration of getting halfway through a film only for that big scratch on the DVD to cut out the key moment. I’ve never had Sky and my family only got Freeview when the digital switchover was first announced, so for the early years of my life, if it wasn’t available at the video shop, I wasn’t going to watch it until it made its way to the television. Ah, memories.

There’s no such problem nowadays of course, the myriad of online catch up services offered by television providers ensures it’s easier than ever to watch your favourite shows. There’s nothing quite as satisfying to me as a good old television binge. Being the sort of person that hates the feeling of having to wait for a new episode, Netflix panders to my impatience, but also my love of all things nostalgic. Hey Arnold! The Movie is available for streaming, I’d almost forgotten that ever happened. And what about the shows you didn’t know you needed to see? Extreme Couponing, My Weird Obsession or Prison Wars.

For the princely sum of £5.99 a month, unlimited access to the ultimate procrastination tool is yours. There’s no pricing structure a la Lovefilm, no limit to what you can watch, and it’s all online so you just need reasonably fast internet. Of course, some readers may be thinking ‘I can do that all already online for free. Why would I spend money I could be using on beer or takeaways?’ The reason I happily pay for my subscription, besides being able to watch every episode of Malcolm in the Middle instead of doing my course reading is Netflix Original Programming. Fans of Arrested Development will already be familiar with the concept, as Netflix stepped up to save Arrested Development last year, producing a new season with the complete original cast. It was a triumph to critics and fans alike, and isn’t the only example of the fine work Netflix have been doing to keep us all entertained. House of Cards, the David Fincher helmed miniseries featuring Kevin Spacey on fine form as a malevolent politician, swept the board at the 2012 Emmys, and has a new season on the way. Joining the ranks in 2013 was my personal favourite, Orange is the New Black, a comedy drama set in a women’s prison.

Netflix has a great track record when it comes to their own shows, granted there are only four examples currently, but each stands alone as high quality television. They don’t churn out the same thing over and over and expect us not to notice (Yes, BBC and Fox, I’m looking at you). Perhaps it’s a matter of scale; Netflix has to make sure what it airs is going to be different and of a high calibre, because they’re still working on a relatively small platform, particularly outside of the US. It needs to be note-worthy or it might get lost in the television ether.

But wait, there’s more… Netflix UK bought the rights to screen the last episodes of Breaking Bad from AMC the day after their US broadcast, causing many fans to rejoice at the prospect of not having to find a pixelated stream or download somewhere in the backwaters of the internet. The idea that soon shows available only in the US might be shown online is definitely an exciting one for TV junkies. Additionally, shows previously only available on satellite or cable in the UK can be found on the site with ease; The US Office, Futurama and Lost are just a few. The criticism usually levelled at online services like Netflix is that they lack recent content or variety, but increasingly I find it’s hard to find something I don’t want to watch, be it an indie film I missed in cinemas or just ten episodes back-to-back of Toddlers and Tiaras (don’t worry, I’m judging myself too).

Of course, it’s not a perfect service. A queue feature would be handy, so you could add titles and watch them at a later date rather than trawling through pages and pages of films every time you have a few hours to kill. Sometimes too much choice is exhausting. Some seasons of shows are missing; rather inconveniently I could only find seasons six onwards of Law & Order: SVU. And the shows you know you should watch (The Sopranos, The Wire) and could watch forever (The Simpsons, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) aren’t yet available. Though perhaps that’s a good thing; I’m not sure I’d ever have a reason to leave the house again if I could watch every episode of the Simpsons all over again.

I know being able to watch a brand new series in the space of twenty four hours isn’t going to get a mention on the skills section of my CV,  and all those adverts of happy families watching Netflix together are a sick joke, because they know their main clientele are bored twenty-something’s with too much time of their hands. Putting all single white female living alone with her cats jokes aside, offering better programming online than many actual television channels manage to and offering hours’ worth of entertainment for the price of one DVD at HMV, Netflix for me represents the future of television. If we’re expected to keep watching the box, it’s high time the Beeb and C4 stepped up their game and followed the Netflix example.

Hannah Woodhead

Photo: Property of

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