Columns, Opinion

RYAN: Netflix is ruining television

Like most college students, I have a healthy relationship with my Netflix account. It has expanded with seven seasons of “Gilmore Girls,” three seasons of “House of Cards,” and a Breakfast or two at Tiffany’s. But as much as I love my (sister’s) Netflix account, I can’t help but wonder whether or not it’s ruining television as we know it.

Netflix has created a culture of binge-watching. After all, you can’t watch just one episode. Suddenly it’s five hours, one season and too many Doritos later, and you still haven’t started your philosophy paper. This binging is part of the problem. You used to have to wait a whole week for the next episode. Now it’s 15 seconds (or less if you get impatient). There’s not even time for the cliffhanger to sink in, let alone the entire episode. The viewer doesn’t have a chance to think critically about what he or she just saw.

Consider a show such as “Breaking Bad.” It’s all about the subtle details. It’s the shift in Walter White’s wardrobe from light colors to dark as he becomes corrupted. It’s the way the teddy bear floating in the pool foreshadows the upcoming plot point. All these little things add to the greatness of the show and we miss out on them because we’re bleary-eyed and racing through episodes at two in the morning. In a show like “Breaking Bad,” nothing is a coincidence. Writers, producers and directors debate over every line, wardrobe choice and camera angle. It’s sad to think about all the art we’re missing because we just want to find out what happens next.

Netflix has also altered the social aspect of watching television. Think about the difference between watching “Game of Thrones” on HBO and binging “Gossip Girl” on Netflix. Every episode of “Game of Thrones” is a social media event. Everyone and their mother is tweeting, texting and posting about the episode in real time. If for some unearthly reason you can’t watch with everyone else, you basically have to turn off your cell phone and avoid the Internet until you get caught up. Thousands of people are talking, analyzing and hypothesizing. It’s trending on Twitter and inspiring listicles on BuzzFeed. It’d be hard to run out of people to talk to about it.

Now compare all this to binge-watching “Gossip Girl.” While you don’t have to worry as much about spoilers, it’s also harder to find people to discuss it with. No one is going to want to discuss the Constance Billard prom episode with you in extreme detail. Even if you find someone who has watched “Gossip Girl,” they probably won’t be up for an in-depth analysis of an episode they watched two years ago. (Side note: I’m always up for discussing “Gossip Girl.”) This has made consuming television online a very solitary activity.

Although Netflix is changing the way we watch television, it’s not all for the bad. The streaming service has become an expert at creating original content. Without Netflix, there’d be no “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black” or “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” A world without Claire Underwood or Titus Andromedon is a world I don’t want to live in. It’s incredible to think that a site none of us had heard of ten years ago is completely revolutionizing the media industry.

For eight dollars per month, users get access to a seemingly infinite amount of content, ad-free. Sure the Netflix catalogue has some serious holes, especially in the Meryl Streep department, but that’s not the end of the world. The streaming site is also breathing new life into shows and films our generation has never heard of. Suddenly, “The West Wing” and “The Blues Brothers” have new fans and a new place in popular culture.

From the looks of it, Netflix is only going to keep building its media empire. On Friday, the streaming site released the trailer for its first original movie “Beasts of No Nation.” Even more interestingly, Nielsen announced in March its plans to release information on Netflix (and Amazon Prime Instant Video) viewership by mid-2016. This will be the first time the ratings company has tracked any online streaming service.

Like anything new, Netflix has its advantages and disadvantages. The only mistake we could make in our assessment is if we undervalued its importance in the media industry. On the one hand, Netflix is quickly making the traditional television model outdated. But on the other, it and sites like it are introducing a new medium for creating original content and revitalizing older shows and films. It has given writers and directors an opportunity to appeal to an audience in a new way. Problematic or not, Netflix has already had a lasting effect on our culture, and my GPA.

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