Binge-watching: To stream or not to stream

Netflix is available on any device that offers a Netflix application such as gaming con- soles, DVD players, phones, tablets and laptops. ELISE AMENDOLA | AP
Netflix is available on any device that offers a Netflix application such as gaming con- soles, DVD players, phones, tablets and laptops. ELISE AMENDOLA | AP

It’s somewhat impossible to imagine a world without the popular television and movie-streaming program Netflix. In its absence, we would have to rent movies the old-fashioned way, eagerly anticipate the next episode of our favorite show, and ask our friends for movie and show recommendations. We would have to sit through those awful infomercials that showcase the struggling individual who can’t reach the tallest shelf and has too many things to put into his or her wallet.

But worst of all, we couldn’t lock ourselves away from the outside world for hours on end. I think it’s safe to say that Netflix forever revolutionized the way we watch television and movies.

Of course, all good things come with a price. Netflix announced earlier this April that new and current subscribers will be paying an extra dollar or two for a continued Netflix subscription, depending on the country in which they live. This would bring payments to $8.99 or $9.99 per month. If subscribers have a DVD plan, this would add another $7.99 to the payment, to round out the payment between $16.98 and $17.98 per month. This goes into effect later on this year, with current subscribers having a reprieve from this increase for a considerable amount of time.

While many will surely scoff at the price raise, Netflix CEO Reed Hasting explained during a company conference call that “these changes will enable us to acquire more content and deliver an even better streaming experience.” With Emmy- nominated shows such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black,” how can Netflix subscribers argue with that?

Netflix has produced a culture in which the term “binge-watching” is included in the Oxford Dictionary, and it’s defined as to “watch multiple episodes of (a television program) in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.” Are the days of cable television simply behind us?

With the option to watch a show or movie at anytime and anywhere with an Internet connection, it makes it difficult for regular cable television to compete. The same goes for renting DVDs. Although Netflix started off as a DVD rental company, it has grown far beyond that into a worldwide brand, sparking other entities such as Amazon and Hulu to jump on the streaming bandwagon.

While Netflix has the most extensive library of material, Hulu and Amazon are cheaper in price, according to Money Crashers, a personal finance blog. However, binge-watching is definitely possible on all three media services. So what’s holding people back from making the switch? The lack of live news and sports options, I would presume. Netflix has yet to tap into live television. Getting the licensing from live television programs is sure to cost Netflix a fortune, but if it chooses to partake, would cable television become obscure?

Michael Powell, the president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said streaming websites are a great addition to cable television. However, he doesn’t see the cord-cutting of our cable inevitable. “Internet distribution is going to give customers more flexibility and complementary choices in combination of what they`re buying from cable. A lot of shows they love could never get to streaming if they weren’t on cable first. “Breaking Bad” costs more than $4 million per episode to make,” he told USA Today in an interview.

While the glitz and glamour of “Breaking Bad” is over, Netflix original series are gaining their own following. “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Hemlock Grove” are all successful Netflix creations that can hold their own against cable television. However, their popularity cannot necessarily compete with cable television shows because of our aforementioned vocabulary word of the day, binge-watching. While we, as viewers, appreciate having a whole season of great television shows at our fingertips, the hype is only temporary. While cable television programming has specific time allocations, Netflix does not. We can get excited for the next episode the following week, and we can hyperventilate at the season finale and series finale right along with our fellow fans. There is something to be said about the communal experience of watching television. Not in the fact that we are immediately watching a television show with other people, but communal in the way we can ask our neighbors, friends and co-workers if they saw the latest episode of “Scandal” and if they want to speculate on what will happen next.

Binge-watching eliminates all the anticipation present in a riveting show. Not to mention, it loads all its press, hype and buzz into one release date. Can the unforgettable show sustain itself in the press just simply by its plot line and cast? Cable television is constantly in our face with commercials and the weekly conundrums of characters. Critics can argue plot lines episode by episode. Fan fiction can be written about from week to week. The population actually has a chance to digest information before callously moving onto the next episode. We take the writers and actors work on cable television piece by piece rather than all at once.

The hindrance of Netflix in this respect makes me think that Netflix and binge- watching aren’t the future. As Powell points out later in his interview with USA Today, the positive effect that streaming can have for those who watch cable television is that it “puts innovation pressures on cable companies and that’s good. The Internet is not a linear story. It’s a chaotic story. It’s like four-dimensional chess.”
Powell has it right in his metaphor of the Internet. A chaotic story doesn’t begin to describe the net neutrality controversy that websites are currently facing. As Netflix is one of them, it is clear that for all of Netflix’s perfections, there are some clear challenges that it will have to face while growing its empire—challenges that cable television can ignore.

It will be interesting to watch Netflix evolve over the next few years. But perhaps what will be even more fascinating is watching the cable television shows scramble to become bigger and better than its streaming competitors.