In the streaming era, more people are watching more content than ever before. The average adult spends more than two and a half hours watching television each day, according to a recent survey. While that’s down from the pandemic peak of three hours per day, it’s still a huge amount of time spent with the screen. When you factor in time spent watching online video channels like TikTok and YouTube, the amount of time we spend consuming video is at an all-time high. Among streamers, Netflix remains the king of the hill, with viewers spending an average of one hour per day watching the service, more time than they spent with rivals like YouTube and TikTok.
Because Netflix is the go-to streamer, the choices it makes in programming its collection of TV shows and movies have an outsize influence on how viewers think about entertainment. In this article, we’ll take a look at the programming strategy Netflix uses and talk a bit about how the streamer’s IT infrastructure delivers that content to users.
Movies on Netflix
When Netflix began, it delivered movies directly to consumers through the U.S. Postal Service, on DVD. Surprisingly, Netflix’s video rental operation was still in operation in 2023, with the last DVD rental scheduled to go out on September 29, 2023. Today, however, most consumers have forgotten about the DVD rental business and instead watch Netflix content through the company’s streaming app. Over the years, however, Netflix’s movie catalog has undergone many changes as the company has moved away from movies toward streaming television shows.
The biggest change in Netflix’s movie offerings is in their number. In 2010, Netflix peaked at 7,000 movies available to stream. In 2014, Netflix still had almost 6,500 movie titles available for users to stream, but that number has fallen every year as the company loses films to rival streamers or chooses not to renew licensing deals. By 2019, the number will be 3,800 titles. The rapid decline has stabilized somewhat. Today, there are approximately 3,600 movies available on Netflix.
So, what happened?
Licensing movies is expensive, and for many titles, few if any people were watching. Netflix has chosen not to renew licenses for packages of movies that attract relatively few viewers. If you pay more for the movie than the subscribers who watch it are paying, you will lose money. Another major factor is that Netflix does not have its own movie studio. It once licensed major films from the big Hollywood studios. However, these studios now have their own streaming services. Warner Bros. has Max. Disney has Disney+. Universal has Peacock. Paramount has Paramount +. As studios developed their own streaming services, they terminated their licensing agreements with Netflix and moved much of their content to their own rival streamers. This stripped Netflix of many of its biggest titles.
How Has Netflix Responded?
Netflix has responded to the changing movie landscape by commissioning its own films, which they pay for and control the license to. The goal is to create a rival movie library that can keep viewers hooked on Netflix original content instead of content licensed from rival studios. Overall, however, this strategy has had mixed results. Several of the streamer’s original movies have achieved critical acclaim and even won major awards. However, on the whole, its streaming original movies have been critical duds and have largely failed to generate much cultural traction beyond the internal Netflix ecosystem. One reason for this is that Netflix chooses movies using algorithms to help predict what audiences want to see and what should be included in a film. Algorithmic decision making often produces more generic content than human choices. This has the benefit of avoiding real bombs, but it also makes the unexpected delight less likely. Algorithms favor a safe, and bland, middle ground.
In order to deliver content to users, Netflix uses a proprietary recommendation algorithm to match content to users’ past viewing, interests, and preferences. The algorithm is designed to give users more of what they want to see by recommending titles that are similar to those already viewed. Netflix determines what is similar in two ways. One is through the classification of titles that the company itself performs when a title is uploaded to the service. For example, a title may be classified by genre, plot, actors, tone, mood, quality, etc. Another way is by monitoring what users who watch a given title also watch. Since most people tend to watch movies that are similar to titles they are familiar with, tracking viewer habits can determine what viewers of a given title may also like based on what other viewers previously watched or watched next.
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