How Netflix Killed the Cable Star

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How Netflix Killed the Cable Star

by Amanda Lang | Featured | Jan 21, 2017

Publications such as Time magazine and The New York Times have been heralding the eventual take over of the entertainment industry by Netflix since 2010.

Now seven years later, this prediction seems fairly prescient.

Walk into the home of anybody between the ages of 18 and 25 and you will notice a few things. One, they will not have any matching glassware. Two, you will likely be sitting on the only piece of furniture they own, as it is doubtful that they will be staying in one place for longer than a year. Three, they will not have a television set in their home.

Shannon Dwyer, a 23-year-old copywriter living in Boston says, “Netflix is a more personal experience. I can choose exactly what to watch without breaks for ads interrupting.”

According to Nielsen Holdings, a global information and data company, traditional TV usage among viewers 18 to 34 has been falling at a rate of 4 percent since 2012. In 2015 it took a nosedive at 10.6 percent.

Owning a television set is no longer the status symbol it once was. For many millennials, it is nothing more than an unnecessary decoration. An overpriced commodity, which, in an age where children receive their first iPhones at age 11, no longer seems quite so impressive. Why spend a portion of your monthly income muting and un-muting between commercial breaks when you can binge watch an entire season in one sitting? Why plan your day around an episode of your weekly TV series when the entire season will be out by the end of the month?

For the cable companies racing to keep up with the rate that Netflix has been able to stream both original and televised content, this has meant rebuilding, rebranding, and renaming in order to stay afloat. The recent buyout of Time Warner by Charter Communications, a company that only a few years ago declared bankruptcy, has not elicited the positive response from former subscribers that it had hoped. Despite promises from Charter’s representatives that the merger will not affect monthly broadband rates, most young people have decided to opt out entirely.

“[Netflix is] cheaper than cable; you can specifically choose and re-watch over and over whatever you want. It puts the latest seasons out a month after they wrap up and it’s pretty straightforward” says Stephanie Kearney, a 22-year-old New York City student at City University of New York.

“Straightforward” is not the experience that most have had with the former Time Warner Cable. An article by Mental Floss featured several statements from former Time Warner employees, which are disappointing to say the least. One such employee stated that he didn’t like to work hands-on to help customers because he was afraid of “breaking things.” Yikes!

As if a lower price and more dependable service weren’t enough to entice the younger generation, Netflix continues to produce the kind of unique, high-quality television that used to be associated with premium channels like HBO and Showtime. In a 2016 study by Morgan Stanley, more American consumers chose Netflix as having the “best” original content of any other premium TV and internet-video subscription service.

This is unsurprising to anyone who has been following Netflix original programming throughout the last year. In 2016 alone Netflix managed to revive the career of Wynona Ryder, pioneer the first major black superhero series, and make us love a show where breakdancing can stop a would-be school shooter.

After the quick cancellation of HBO series “Vinyl,” the cable channel needed a hit series to boost their track record and they found it with Westworld. After the season finale it was reported that “Westworld” was the most watched first season of any original HBO series. However, because of the work that goes into the production of “Westworld’s” vast and complicated universe, the show will not be returning until 2018. Though television series don’t necessarily benefit from a quick return, the long break may not be in “Westworld’s” best interest either–especially not with millennial viewers who have become used to a universe of immediate gratification.

“I hate the wait so much, if it’s too long I just stop caring and checking,” says Sophie Stiles, a 23-year-old Long Island-based cartoon artist.

It also makes for more difficulty in continuity when the details become vague and the excitement and anticipation has petered out over the course of a year. Ironically unless the show itself is already on Netflix, it can be hard to catch up on the past few episodes before the show comes back for its next season.

Though Netflix itself has stacked a few long wait times onto their original content (“Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” etc.) they also pump out new series between breaks with regularity. This is simply not possible for television channels that are so beholden to ratings and viewership statistics that often their content will fold after the pilot has first aired.

Netflix is playing a numbers game. Not all of its content is prime viewing (and that Adam Sandler series makes that fact all the more true), but if it releases three or four new shows every month then who cares? All they need is one runaway hit and they have you hooked again. Normal cable channels don’t have the luxury of playing this game no matter how many reruns they add to their instant streaming sites.

“You don’t even have to ask people if they have Netflix anymore,” says Katherine Martin, a Miami based model, “It’s assumed. Like, ‘oh watch this show, it’s on Netflix’.” The opposite is assumed too. In any random millennial apartment, you will be more likely to find a mini fridge than even the oldest, most broken-down television set.

Though Tim Westcott, senior principal analyst at IHS Technology believes that “it’s premature to declare that the era of linear TV is already over,” don’t expect to see many millennials shelling out for the latest 52-inch plasma screen. We will be busy finishing off our student loan payments and catching up on the new Drew Barrymore series: ad free.