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Netflix: Monster or Superhero?

· March 29, 2017

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled “Netflix: The Monster That’s Eating Hollywood.” From the title, one would think that the article would repeat the tired narrative of how the Internet is harming creativity, from facilitating piracy to diverting traffic from news sites. But the article actually tells a different story: how streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon are promoting fierce competition over creative talent. In other words, the Internet is increasing the income of “creatives.”

DisCo recently highlighted a New York Times article by Farhad Manjoo entitled “How the Internet is Saving Culture, Not Killing It.” The Times article explained that the growth of subscription-based online platforms for movies, television, and music were sustaining commercial content and cultural production. DisCo previously explored how streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon were significantly increasing both the quantity and quality of television programs, bringing about what critics describe as a second Golden Age of Television.

According to the Journal article, Netflix is increasing its investment in original programming from $5 billion to $6 billion a year, five times as much as 21st Century Fox’s FX or CBS’s Showtime. Netflix will produce 70 original shows this year, expanding into genres such as children’s programming, reality shows, and comedy specials. This growth has led to increased demand for personnel, which in turn is resulting in higher salaries for actors, camera crews, sound engineers, and post-production specialists.

At the same time, the increased demand for established professionals on both sides of the camera has created an opportunity for new writers, show creators, and actors on the traditional networks. Some of these creative individuals have been “discovered” on the Internet. Scripps, for example, has a new HGTV show featuring a fix-it couple it found on Instagram, and is developing several programs with YouTube stars.

While it is not surprising that content producers might view a new, successful competitor as a “monster” – particularly if that competitor threatens old business models – new platforms like Netflix are better regarded as a superhero. This has always been the case from the perspective of consumers, who have new ways of accessing content, but as the Journal article shows, it is also a hero from the perspective of the artists working in Hollywood, whose skills are now in greater demand.

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.