Screens on a Platter – The Netflix Effect (part 1)

The Netflix Inc. website and logo are displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. Netflix Inc., the largest subscription streaming service, is expected to release earnings data on Jan. 22. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the first of two articles, Ezzah Mahmud takes a step back to look at the Netflix effect.

From the moment I knew I would be furthering my studies in the United Kingdom, the whole idea of being able to subscribe to Netflix has been running at the back of my head, rummaging through the possibilities and the overwhelming number of television and film content I can legally watch. After all, I would be living with a group of students in a house with no living rooms and no television.This was around September 2014. At the time, there were a number of television shows being spoken of and discussed on E! News. The awards buzz on entertainment blogs about the likes of ‘Orange is the New Black’ and ‘House of Cards’ have somehow made me want to know more about this whole pandemonium: the new trend of streaming visual content.

I have used Netflix since the fifth day of my arrival here, which meant I have been a subscriber of Netflix for slightly over a year and three months. In fact, it was one of the first things I did once I had registered my bank account. Some may argue I am merely wasting my money, but I don’t think so. I am very clear with the reasons behind my subscription to Netflix.

Pirated-DVD1-430x322Growing up, I remember spending a lot of time watching films in the cinema, enjoying television shows on cable and, with an abundance of shame and regret, contributing to the local film piracy scene by purchasing illegal DVDs simply because they are cheap. However, after having studied in film school, as well as being more mature on how piracy affects the production of creative content), I feel obliged to give back instead of stealing. I now pay for the content that I’m consuming.

This is especially the case after having made a few short films and working in the creative line. Such art, ranging from the simplest of poems to the grandest of blockbusters, demand time, effort and energy for it to be turned into something meaningful and entertaining for to be ingested by the audience. A lot of work need to be done in the making of a piece of art; thus, stealing and piracy will just kill it. This is me not contributing to the guilt I have in me, which is accumulated whenever I ‘enjoy’ pirated visual content.

It would sound idealistic and outlandish to some extent if we would say that Netflix helps to kill piracy totally. However, I think it can somehow help to reduce it. Slowly but steadily, and in the long term, better education leads to an increasing awareness of the importance of protecting such content. Piracy isn’t an easy thing to kill, for it involves a lot of people on so many levels, but I believe it can somehow be reduced with the presence of Netflix.

internet-speed-testSomething else that has changed are my viewing habits and patterns. This is due to the ease and accessibility of the service itself. Netflix works fully on the Internet, and living in the country that is ranked 18th on the list of nations with the fastest Internet speed, you can’t help but be online. You’ll always be tempted to watch or stream stuff on Netflix, as it will not buffer or even lag at all. All you need is a working wifi connection, and you can subscribe to Netflix.

Because I use it daily, it complements my other film-related activities. To give context to this notion, a film student in the United Kingdom can apply to be a student member of British Academy of Film, Theatre and Art (BAFTA). One of the perks is being able to watch films in the cinema for free. Yes. Free! It is a brilliant initiative, and I think film authorities back home such as National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) can collaborate with local cinemas to enhance such cinematic viewing pleasures. As such, I will watch all the latest films in the cinema, and Netflix comes right after it.

I watch most of the films dating from a few months ago to a year or so back, before going all the way back to the classic black and white films. Partly because I am a film student, I usually watch one fiction film or documentary daily, and a few episodes of the available television shows. During my not-so-packed weekends, I have to admit to being an avid binge-watcher. Most of the television shows I watch are the ones produced by Netflix themselves, as well as other American networks. I remember watching Netflix’s Sense8 (from the Wachowskis) and Narcos (Jose Padilha) in one whole day (and night), sometimes even watching the whole season in one sitting.

my-cup-of-teaWith regards to the options available, many have debated how Netflix can be better in certain countries. It’s fairly obvious that due to certain legal rights, some studios have licensed the screening of films and television shows available in some countries but not others. The American version of Netflix, for example, has almost double the number of films and televisions shows compared to the United Kingdom, with nearly 7,000 available (episodes in series/seasons are not included).

Those dissatisfied with this change and ‘cheat’ their devices by changing its VPN address, to fool it into thinking it’s in the United States. Of course, this was frowned upon, and in 2015 Netflix blocked many users who use such cheat methods. I remember reading blog posts and tweets from disappointed users, some of whom react by cutting short their subscriptions and continuing to stream films and shows online.

For myself, I agree that Netflix has more options in its host country. At the same time I feel like there are so much awesomeness to be watched on the British version as well. From ‘Oldboy’ to ‘The Raid: Berandal’, by way of ‘Chennai Express’ of Bollywood and Malaysia’s very own ‘Vikingdom’, they’re all on Netflix here in the United Kingdom. Not only that, a wide range of animated series, anime, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, and other films from all over the world are also available under the foreign film genre.

Katy-Perry-Part-Of-Me-DocumentaryThere’s also plenty of choices with regards to the documentaries, so those with more controversial tastes would be equally at home with fans of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Netflix has a very wide range of films from all over the world, making watching local and international films something people can root for. Their pool of original content is also fairly interesting as it is, with all of this legally available at an affordable price. I think people will only turn to pirated material if Netflix could not provide their preferred films they want to watch.

In the United Kingdom, I pay £6.99 per month for 2 High Definition screens, which I share with my housemates. I think it’s totally worth it, with the overwhelming number of content we can watch legally, and how easy it is to browse through the content based on the genre. It is reasonable and affordable. As a Netflix user, I don’t subscribe to cable television channels like Sky. Here, Netflix is mostly being used not only by working adults but also by a younger audience, due to its cheap price.

In Malaysia, with the price of RM33, I believe it will be appealing to a similar target audience, so it could be a hit amongst university students who traverse a well-connected digital landscape. With its easy subscription process, abundance of content and anytime access, it is certainly something that is worth subscribing to. On the other hand, if they don’t really watch Netflix even after having paid for it, it would be a bit of a waste, but the content would still be available at your disposal.

nasi-lemakYou can guess by now that I’m always using the service whenever I’m free, which means I don’t do many other productive things. Perhaps some might say, “You should get a life. Disconnect from the Internet and socialise.” I would say that as long as you do the things that you think is good for you, and in moderation, it is absolutely fine. In my case, Netflix becomes a socialising tool when I visit my friends. We would switch on my account, connect it to the television set and enjoy a film while eating our home-cooked nasi lemak or butter chicken briyani.

Speaking of home, I believe that we can help improve Netflix outside of the United States by extending certain rights and licenses. It will not only make Netflix a go-to visual content provider, but it can also help artists and people from other places, other than the United States to enjoy their artwork, simultaneously helping with marketing and coverage.

By this I mean making available more local films for a bigger audience. This is precisely what happens here. Perhaps due to its licensing and copyright being approved for the domestic audience, British and Irish films are readily available, which helps the local film industry reach a greater viewership. Lower budget films are also available.

9195470.0Thus, it is not impossible for Malaysian films to be available on the Malaysian Netflix. Others can follow KRU Studios’ lead in making their content available outside of Malaysia. This is certainly a very good thing, especially for the Malaysian filmmaker to put out their film out there, for the film to be consumed by international audiences. It will motivate the filmmaker to go global, and put more effort in making universally-themed films. Ultimately, it helps to market Malaysia and its arts scene, allowing us to know where we stand and how we perform on a bigger stage. There’s a long way to go, but with the technology and information we have at our fingertips, it’s plausible that we can make films along international standards, and perhaps even gain the attention of international film studios to invest in our very creative pool of people.

With their decision to go live in over 130 countries last month, it has certainly spread its wings wider than ever before, making itself available in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and more. Unfortunately, I feel it is a little bit late in establishing its service in these countries. Perhaps they took their time in researching the audience, the countries’ capacities for high-speed connection, as well as the depth of its cultural roots. Issues such as censorship should not be disregarded as well.

What this means is that it’s not operating in a vacuum. A similar Internet content provider called iFlix has also made its presence felt in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries. What I can ascertain is that iFlix has more specific films and television shows; in addition to popular American content, it also has a library of programmes produced in the Southeast Asian region, making it a more appealing option for the local community.

For me, being able to consume Netflix is something that has helped me enjoy my watching experience and has helped me a lot in providing the options for me to watch and improve my cinematic vocabulary. I don’t know about you, but I root for Netflix everyday!

Read part two of our thoughts here.

Featured image credit: Chasing Dragonflies

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