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The 3 reasons why Netflix’s TV shows are working

The Emmy nominations came in this week, and Netflix has raked in a massive 31 – more than some of the mainstream TV networks. It’s clear at this point that Netflix isn’t just yet another streaming service; it’s fast becoming a TV force to be reckoned with, and one which is seriously beginning to compete with network TV. But how is Netflix, an online-based video streamer, able to produce such popular and high-quality programmes? In this post, I’m going to take a look at the main reasons why I think they’ve been so successful.

1. They’re taking risks.

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If Netflix don’t make new TV programmes, that’s all right by them. They have an enormous audience already and they’re raking in the cash. Choosing to make new programmes isn’t going to lose them any of their audience; the nature of streaming means they can keep adding more and more films and shows ad infinitum, without sacrificing any viewer favourites (as a TV channel would have to do). Creating a new series can only increase their viewership. And because of that, they’re able to take a few risks.

Would Orange Is The New Black have been picked up by a mainstream network? It’s a fantastic show, but there’s no way a big TV network would go with it. Its massive ensemble cast of dozens of women – and not just women, but women who are conventionally unattractive, ethnically diverse, all shades of LGBT, mentally ill, and above all criminals – is far too risky for prime time. Regional laws would also make it a problem to show the sexual content and nudity in the series, which of course isn’t an issue for the internet. Same goes with its showing people committing crimes or breaking rules (and in some cases, getting away with it) – the BBC, for instance, has quite explicit rules about showing crime in its programmes. Taking sides with the criminal isn’t always an option.

It’s only on a platform like Netflix that a series like Orange Is The New Black could possibly be aired. And it’s clear to see that the risk has paid off for them: Orange‘s viewing figures are thought to have been immense.

2. They approach their series in the same way their viewers do

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The beautiful thing about Netflix is that you can watch the entirety of a 6-season TV show back-to-back without having to do anything other than click a couple of buttons. Unfortunately most of us have lives and can’t really do that, but nonetheless it’s not unusual for Netflix viewers to sit down and watch several episodes in one sitting, or to get through a whole series of a programme in the space of a week or two.

This creates an entirely different viewing experience from the old-fashioned one-episode-a-week system we’re used to on TV channels. Gone are the need for ‘last week on ___’ segments at the beginning of an episode, for a start. Instead, a series needs to be approached as one extremely long film with a few regular toilet breaks. This can mean it needs some smoother technicalities – a series needs complete coherency in its story arc and plot, for instance, as audiences are more likely to spot inconsistencies if they only just watched the last few episodes. However, the medium also lends itself to more creativity.

Anyone who has seen series 4 of Arrested Development – which was broadcast exclusively on Netflix – will tell you that it needs watching multiple times. Throughout the fifteen episodes, the writers have woven together several story arcs that all interact with each other in a very complex way. Then, as you watch through the series, it all slowly begins to come together. This of course would not work if only one episode was being broadcast a week, as the individual episodes don’t have the punch and immediate resolution that a TV-based comedy needs. The entertainment instead comes from watching the whole series unfold at once. It’s this Tralfamadorian nature that made the series so successful, and it’s something that simply wouldn’t be possible in any other medium. As a result, Netflix’s audience feel valued, and the use of the medium in this way has enabled something brilliant to be created.

3. They are harnessing the power of the internet

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Netflix are, quite frankly, fantastic at using the internet to gain new users and keep their existing ones. Their audience are internet users by default, and Netflix know how to harness this. Whether it’s by adding hilarious Easter eggs on their site for April Fool’s Day, or basing their film addition choices on torrenting figures, Netflix really know how to speak to the internet generation and use this to their advantage. There’s even evidence that illegal pirating and torrenting figures go down in regions that Netflix enters – that’s just how in tune they are with the net.

The effect of this is that, again, Netflix’s users feel the company understands them. Here is a brand and a service that is in touch with their needs and desires, therefore one that they feel at ease with. And if that brand puts out a new service – say, a brand new show called House of Cards – the audience is more likely to give it a go. It comes straight from their trusted brand, after all.

The other effect is that it can create services, in this case a new series, that are already in line with its audience’s desires. Arrested Development was critically acclaimed when it was first shown on the US channel FOX, but its audience wasn’t particularly huge; it was only through the internet that a new, worldwide cult following was able to emerge. And then, when that following reached its peak several years after the programme was first aired, Netflix stepped in and commissioned a brand new series. Viewing figures were phenomenal when it was released. It’s clear to see, then, how exactly Netflix is gaining traction the way that it is.

Overall, Netflix is a feat of both branding and customer service. It’s going to be interesting to keep watching it (and not just because OITNB‘s been commissioned for another series) to see if it manages to continue to be this good, or if it goes downhill. I’m hoping it’s the former, but then again I hoped the same of Myspace back in the day.

Do you like Netflix? Hate it? Comment below! Or follow me on Twitter even though I almost never tweet about Netflix.