By Cameron Lindsey
Netflix is singlehandedly changing the way Americans watch television, and I am talking about something more than making us stay awake for days watching seasons of The X-files.
Back in early 2012, a little eight-episode show called Lilyhammer aired on our trusty video subscription service, where it received little attention. The show originally aired in Norway and stars one of Bruce Springsteen’s guitarists, Steven Van Zandt, who you might remember from back in the day on The Sopranos. The show centers around Van Zandt’s character, a former mafia boss, who relocates to Norway as part of a witness protection program. Sounds okay, right? You can still watch every episode of the show on Netflix, so check it out if you like.
But more importantly, remember the name Lilyhammer. That way, when you get a trivia question in 2025 that asks, “What was Netflix’s first original show before they changed television forever?” you can jump up and say, “I know this one.”And since it will be 2025, maybe you and your friends can turn on Netflix and watch one of the many new Netflix shows that the company produces. If you are looking for comedy, you could watch Bad Samaritans, the reboot of the Ricky Gervais show Derek. Maybe you could turn on the fourth season of the long awaited Arrested Development, followed by the Netflix produced Arrested Development movie. Looking for dramas? Why not Eli Roth’s Hemlock Grove, Sense 8 by the Wachowski siblings, or maybe House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and directed (for several episodes) by David Fincher. Maybe you’re hoping to get the kids down for something. Netflix won’t disappoint with the spin-off of their animated film Turbo.
Of course, you don’t actually have to wait until 2025 to watch these shows. All of them are scheduled for release by 2014.
A viewing revolution
But this is supposed to be a revolution! Down with the TV-executives! Up with the commercial-less programming! Don’t worry, it’s already happening. For several years now, television as we know it has begun to fade away. Shows like Friends and Cheers are quickly being replaced by The Voice and Splash. You TV lovers may be confused.
After all, why not have another great sitcom to watch every week instead of a show about celebrities jumping into a pool (yes, that really is the plot of Splash)? The answer is simple, and it has been for a long time. Ratings. A show might be the reincarnation of MASH, but it will fail if viewers do not sit for the commercials and make the ratings go up. That means that if you DVR or Tivo your favorite shows, you are not helping their ratings. The same is true if you watch them online illegally the next day, or if you live on a college campus. (For whatever reason, campus cable has a hard time figuring our viewing). Simply put, television shows exist to sell you the things that are shown to you during commercial breaks. If you don’t see those commercials, then they don’t get their money. Interactive reality shows, on the other hand, are the number one way to get people to watch the show as it airs.
So where does Netflix factor into this? Netflix doesn’t make their money through commercials, though there is a lot of conspicuous product placement. Netflix doesn’t have to worry about who is watching the commercials because their servers can already see directly who is watching and who is not. By allowing you to watch amazing original programs all at once, Netflix is moving the television experience online and away from standard commercial advertisements. No more waiting a week between each episode. Now you can watch entire seasons at your leisure. And there’s more. It could mean possible reboots of fan favorites like Arrested Development. It could mean, as AD creator Mitch Hurwitz suggests, that episodes can be freed from being watched in any specific order. Shows with complex storylines like House of Cards can create longer episodes and take the needed time to add to their cinematic beauty—all things broadcast television simply can’t provide.
Other companies have recognized the new trend. Verizon, which owns Redbox, as well as Amazon and Hulu are all trying to catch up in the original programming game. HBO already has the HBOGO website for their subscribers. Even the networks recognize the change. Most shows are uploaded onto the network’s website a few hours after the episode airs.
As this trend progresses, television will become a place where people go to watch live events, sports, news, and reality shows. The internet, on the other hand, will be where audiences go—on their Roku’s, iPhones, Playstations, computers or whatever other online enabled device comes along—to watch the best programs without commercials and without the constraints of the typical thirty minute weekly block.
And it all started with a little show called Lilyhammer.