How Netflix Originals Continue to Revolutionize the Streaming Platform

netflix-house-of-cards

netflix-house-of-cards

Ever since it launched its streaming platform in 2007, Netflix has continued to innovate in terms of content and distribution. It’s on the content side, though, where Netflix has really excelled, building a massive library of movies and classic TV shows that has made it one of the leading layers in the streaming content space.

One key element in this content strategy has been the creation of the Netflix Originals programming initiative, which formally launched in 2013 with “House of Cards.” Since that time, Netflix has launched 26 other Originals, in categories ranging from drama and comedy to kids’ programming and documentaries. Some of the most popular Netflix Originals include “Orange is the New Black” (said to be the most-watched Netflix Original), “Narcos,” “Daredevil,” “Marco Polo” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Each Netflix Original is content produced, co-produced or distributed by Netflix exclusively on its own platform. The important part in that is the “exclusivity” of Netflix Originals. Simply put, if you want to watch “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black,” the only place you can watch them is via Netflix. And that means you have to sign up as a Netflix subscriber.

What’s extraordinary is the amount of Originals content that Netflix now produces on an annual basis. In 2013, the company produced about 100 hours of original programming. In 2016, that figure could reach 600 hours.

Netflix vs. HBO

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This leads to the natural question: Why exactly is Netflix producing all this content at such a rapid rate? The easy answer, say analysts, is that Netflix is trying to become HBO faster than HBO can become Netflix. That is the fundamental dynamic going on in the streaming space.

Before Netflix Originals, the only way Netflix could get content to stream to consumers was to license content from movie or TV studios. And that’s very expensive. So as fast as Netflix signed up new subscribers, it was simply sending all that money back to the original content producers. By investing in Netflix Originals, Netflix could reduce all those licensing costs. And, moreover, it could change the way consumers viewed the streaming service.

In many ways, Netflix has become similar to HBO. Just as some people only sign up for HBO to watch a single show – such as “Sex and the City” or “Game of Thrones” – some people now sign up to Netflix only to watch a single show, such as “Orange is the New Black.” If the content is good enough, it becomes part of the overall pop culture, and that means people are talking about constantly. Suddenly, you’re not in the “in” crowd if you don’t know what happened to Kevin Spacey last night on “House of Cards.” So you sign up for Netflix.

That’s exactly the opposite problem faced by HBO, which is known for creating some of the best TV content in the entertainment world. Everything HBO produces seems to turn to gold – especially if it airs on Sunday night. “Game of Thrones” is just the most recent example. But HBO is dependent on the major cable and satellite providers for distribution. For the most part, people can’t watch HBO if they are not a cable or satellite subscriber.

So HBO has been working furiously on ways to “unbundle” itself from traditional cable TV – much like Netflix. That’s why it’s such a big deal when streaming services are able to offer HBO even if you don’t have a cable TV subscription – it means that HBO is further breaking its dependence on the big cable providers, who can no longer offer HBO as some sort of “premium” enticement to get people to sign up for an expensive cable package.

Netflix vs. the cable TV providers

netflix-marco-polo

Another big consideration to keep in mind is how widely Netflix is hedging its bets in terms of content. It’s easy to think of Netflix as only a place for new dramas. But there are plenty of other types of content included within the Netflix Originals. For example, “BoJack Horseman” is an animated sitcom series about a former sitcom star that happens to be a horse. “Marco Polo” was an epic period drama that ranks as one of the most expensive TV series ever produced. “Daredevil” is part of a five-season deal with Marvel Television that also includes “Jessica Jones” for superhero TV content from Marvel.

In Fall 2016, Deutsche Bank did a comprehensive study of Netflix content and found that Netflix will release an estimated 126 original series or films in 2016, more than any other network or cable channel. If you think about that, it’s a staggering total. Netflix is trying to revolutionize the way we think about streaming – it’s not just about ordering one movie every weekend, it’s about making Netflix a nightly experience. The same way you might watch TV on NBC, ABC or FOX every night of the week, you can now watch Netflix – the programming lineup is that deep.

There’s a business reason behind this move as well. Instead of subscribing to cable, you now might subscribe to Netflix. Even if you are tempted to quit your Netflix subscription, “there are just too many good shows on.” It’s the reason some people can’t quit cable – they can’t bear the thought of losing ESPN and sports coverage, or CNN and news coverage. By constantly announcing new Netflix Originals, Netflix hopes to keep people subscribing to Netflix for longer. If you know that a new season of your favorite Netflix show is going to be available in three months, are you going to quit now – or wait for another three months?

Netflix vs. Hollywood

netflix-the-ranch

Finally, Netflix is changing the relationship between the big film studios and the streaming services. That’s because Netflix is now self-producing content (e.g. “Chelsea” and “The Ranch”) through its Netflix Studios production studios. That means Netflix will not be as dependent on Hollywood studios for licensing content – and it will give them more flexibility in terms of when and where they can stream the content. This is an especially important consideration if you think about Netflix as a global – not just U.S. – streaming service.

Going forward, Netflix will continue to revolutionize the streaming platform. The company will continue to change the way we think about content, distribution and pricing. And the constant supply of new Netflix Originals will continue to position Netflix as more than just a streaming service – it’s also a premium content producer along the lines of an HBO, as well as a network along the lines of an NBC or ABC, filled with lots of shows and programming that can be watched every night of the week.

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Why “Narcos” is So Popular

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narcos-netflix

Crime drama, as a genre, addresses two things: first of all, it gives us a peek into a world that outsiders are incredibly curious about. Secondly, we can do this without risking anything from the outside. There is a thrill attached to crime dramas that is unmatched by any other genre. Narcos falls into this category, and when it premiered, the show promised a story on the life and times of Pablo Escobar, one of the most notorious and richest criminals of the ‘90s and possibly all time. However, the show has evolved so beautifully over time and has become so much more. It is loved by the audiences, has raked in a lot of cash for Netflix, and has successfully secured two more seasons on the streaming service. But what’s so different about Narcos that it is being touted as the best crime drama in history?

Many scenes in Narcos have been dramatized to add to the show’s entertainment value, but major plots of the story have been picked up from the real life of Pablo Escobar. The “based on a true story” tagline intrigues viewers, and even encourages viewers to research Escobar after watching an episode. So many wacky things happen on the show that you just make up: for instance, the prison in which Escobar was “jailed.” Not only did he have his own security guards at the gates, he had jacuzzis, a casino, and a luxurious bed at his service. While he did time in jail, he enjoyed visits from relatives as well as professional players, prostitutes, or anyone else he wanted to meet. It is only natural for viewers to think that this was all exaggerated, but if you read up on the drug lord, and you can see for yourself that all of it actually happened.

narcos-netflix-series

Many of Netflix’s shows have seen some incredible acting performances from their respective actors, and Narcos is no different. All the actors have played their parts admirable, but you really have to give it to Wagner Moura for his portrayal of the lead character, Pablo Escobar. As the leader of the Mendellin cartel, Moura is completely believable. Escobar is already a huge figure in the history of Columbia, but Moura makes him somewhat of a legend. You get to watch this man plot and commit murders, but you cannot keep your eyes off of him; in fact, you’ll probably even feel scared of him. Moura’s Pablo Escobar has that evil streak to him, but he also creates a charismatic personality that draws you in. You will actually feel bad when something bad happens to this villain or when he loses someone close to him.

The direction and the screenplay of the show are also amazing. The fast pace of the show prevents it from getting boring, but it does not meddle with the story either. It is a fast-paced show that keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times. Every few minutes, a new decision is made by Escobar; he is a drug lord, a rich man, a wannabe politician, and even a family man. Another reason that you will want to give the show your undivided attention is the fact that quite a bit of it is in Spanish and you will need to read the subtitles. In fact, if you do not know everything about the Columbian drug wars of the ‘80s and ‘90s (like most people), every single turn in the show will keep you guessing what will happen in the next few minutes.

Narcos may be based on real life, but that does not mean it is a documentary. Escobar is this Columbian man who rose out of poverty to become one of the richest men in known criminal history, and he fashioned himself somewhat like Robin Hood, who was a savior of the poor. This was a man who also had ambitions of being in the highest public office one day. It’s an intriguing story that everyone wants to explore deeper. The fact that it’s a Netflix original is just a cherry on top.

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Johnny Depp Will Appear in “Fantastic Beasts 2”

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fantastic-beasts-johnny-depp

Right about now, Harry Potter fans have to be incredibly excited. Not only is J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts” set to hit movie screens on November 18, but there’s now buzz that A-list Hollywood celebrity Johnny Depp will appear in the sequel to the film, tentatively known as just “Fantastic Beasts 2.”

However, for now the film’s producers aren’t saying for sure what role Depp will play in the movie, so let’s not get too excited. On IMDb, for example, Depp is now shown as co-starring with Eddie Redmayne and Zoe Kravitz, but a specific role has not been assigned yet. But there’s a lot of evidence, which if we piece it together, looks like pretty solid evidence that Depp could be appearing in the film as the dark wizard Grindelwald.

Let’s work through some of the evidence and see if this really has any chance of coming true. Here’s what we know for now about “Fantastic Beasts 2”:

  • Writer J.K. Rowling has made very clear that there will now be five total films in the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise, and that a core reason for these films will be explaining the role of Grindelwald and his relationship with Dumbledore;
  • The trailer for “Fantastic Beasts” mentions Grindelwald’s attacks on Europe, so it’s possible that the next film in the installment will be based in Europe – with all signs pointing to Paris as the probable location;
  • “Fantastic Beasts 2” will start shooting in Spring 2017 for a November 2018 release, so any actors involved in the shoot would have to be free of other film engagements during that time period;
  • A special trailer for “Fantastic Beasts” shows a very brief scene showing only the back of the head of Grindelwald. So this is obviously a role that the movie’s producers want to unveil to the public as a big surprise. Some say that the back of the head looks exactly like Depp’s. You can see for yourself – around the three-minute mark of the trailer, there’s a blonde head that could be Depp’s.

Now, a lot of this is speculation. For one, “Fantastic Beasts” hasn’t even hit the theaters yet. Second, the news that the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise will include five films and not three is also relatively recent news and something that’s surprising. For a while, Harry Potter fans thought there would only be three films for “Fantastic Beasts”

So let’s assume that Depp gets the role of Grindelwald. That would be phenomenal and would be a natural match for Depp, who has played roles like Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland,” Sweeney Todd and Edward Scissorhands.

In short, Depp is the perfect actor to play the evil wizard Grindelwald. J.K. Rowling has made no secret of the fact that the story of Grindelwald is an important one and one that she wants to develop further. How did he turn into an evil magician? What’s the relationship between Grindelwald and Dumbledore? And why did Grindelwald launch the attacks on Europe? And what’s the link between Grindelwald and the “Fantastic Beasts” that are unleashed in New York?

But let’s back up for a second. There’s a lot in the first “Fantastic Beasts” that will really help us figure out the whole back-story of Grindelwald. This is obviously what J.K. Rowling wants us to do – to search for clues in these films that will help to explain the epic battle between Grindelwald and Dumbledore and why they had such a falling out.

fantastic-beasts-movie

Here’s what Johnny Depp fans should be looking for in “Fantastic Beasts” when it hits screens on November 18:

  • Any clues as to why the next film in the installment is moving from New York to Paris. There’s little or no mention of Paris in any of the Harry Potter books or films. In fact, the only reference appears to be when Fleur Delacour competed in the Tri-Wizard tournament for the Beauxbatons School. So why Paris?
  • Any clues to the physical appearance of Grindelwald. In the trailer, we only see the back of the head, but getting a glimpse of the full body will go a long way to knowing whether Depp is really in the role;
  • Any clues as to the dark wizard’s rise to power. All we know, really, is that Grindelwald began experimenting with the dark arts, lost his way, and began launching attacks before he lost his power to Dumbledore;
  • Any further clues about the significance of the actual book “Fantastic Beasts.” All we know now is that it’s a textbook owned by Harry Potter and all first-year Hogwarts students. In the Harry Potter books, it’s described as “an excellent reference for Wizarding households.”

But back to Johnny Depp. If he, indeed, will play the role of Grindelwald, how will that impact both his personal and Hollywood career? We know that he’s had a tough breakup with his ex-wife Amber Heard, and that might be one reason why news about Depp is just now coming out. The show’s producers wanted to make sure that the time was right to announce Depp as Grindelwald.

Another factor is: Does Depp have room in his schedule to start shooting “Fantastic Beasts 2” in Spring 2017? All signs seem to point to the fact that, yes, he has time in his schedule for the sequel. According to Hollywood insiders, he has two films set to come out soon – “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and Kenneth Branagh’s remake of “Murder on the Orient Express.” There are no other films in production or pre-production that would prevent him from shooting “Fantastic Beasts 2.”

The last thing to consider is a theory that Colin Farrell, set to play the mysterious character Percival Graves in “Fantastic Beasts,” is actually going to play an important role in how the character of Grindelwald develops in the sequels. Is there some kind of plot twist that involves Percival Graves and Gellert Grindelwald? Some have even speculated that Graves himself is in fact Grindelwald! Fans have been parsing every single line of the trailer, and there might be a hint there of a link between Graves and Grindelwald.

“Fantastic Beasts 2” is exactly the kind of drama action fantasy film that Depp has made such a successful career with as an actor. With each film in the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise as a way to tell more and more of the back-story of Grindelwald, this could be exciting. We could Depp in four more “Fantastic Beasts” film. Let’s just hope the producers let us know when the first “Fantastic Beasts” hits movie screens on November 18. For Harry Potter fans everywhere, that would be the ultimate holiday gift from J.K. Rowling!

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“Black Mirror” and Its Soaring Popularity

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black-mirror-television-show

“Black Mirror” is becoming the “Twilight Zone” of the new digital generation. Each new episode of “Black Mirror” presents a near-dystopian view of the future in which common, everyday technologies – our smartphones, social networks and digital gadgets – transform into instruments of fear, intimidation and paranoia. That almost palpable sense of fear about what is happening to our current techno-society is perhaps the single biggest factor that has made the series so popular ever since it launched in December 2011.

The Netflix Effect

Another big reason for the popularity of “Black Mirror” is the Netflix Effect. As Netflix pushes further and further into original programming, it’s looking for shows like “Black Mirror” that will appeal to its core user base: young, tech-savvy and also somewhat skeptical or ambivalent about the future. “Black Mirror” actually ran for two seasons in Britain (2011-2013) before being picked up by Netflix for its third season, which started on October 21.

The Netflix Effect implies binge watching, and that’s exactly why “Black Mirror” is so powerful – it makes you want to watch every single episode. Each episode takes place in a different milieu, with different characters and different themes – so there’s not a need to binge-watch “Black Mirror” from Episode 1 to Episode 13, straight through. You can skip around however you’d like.

Season 3 on Netflix has already included episodes featuring soldiers with PTSD in a futuristic society, a teenager who is cyber-bullied, an augmented reality video game experience that uses people’s real memories, and a satire on social networking status-seekers.

An antidote to the techno utopia

black-mirror-popularity

What makes “Black Mirror” so addictive for viewers is that it is a real antidote to the whole “techno utopia” approach created and fostered by Silicon Valley. Think of your smartphones, gadgets and social networks – we are told by companies like Apple, Facebook and Google that they are making us smarter and more connected. “Black Mirror” turns that thinking on its head, showing us that these devices are actually closing off connections and forever changing society in ways that we never expected.

In fact, the title for the show – “Black Mirror” – is a reference to the black screens on our digital devices when they are turned off. According to the show’s creator, Charlie Brooker, that’s the only time when we can see the real “us” – when our devices are off. When they are on, that’s when the trouble starts.

And there’s another reason why Brooker’s techno dystopian themes are resonating so much with viewers – there is a sense of immediacy that you don’t get with other films or movies that are dystopian in nature. The world of “Mad Max” is decades into the future. The world of “Blade Runner” or “Terminator” is decades into the future. But the world of “Black Mirror” is already here – it doesn’t require any futuristic new technologies, they are already present.

Take, for example, the behaviors that we take for granted – updating our social networks daily and habitually, recording every scene around us, obsessing over the contents of a single text message, or using web cams – all of these techno-habits appear in episodes of “Black Mirror.”

Which is not to say that “Black Mirror” doesn’t push the edges of the technological envelope. One episode – “Hated in the Nation” – deals with the topic of homicidal robotic bees.

Social and political satire

black-mirror-netflix

Where “Black Mirror” has resonated the most with viewers is where it makes brutal, searing condemnations of our current digital society. Take politics, for example. One episode from Season 2 – “The Waldo Moment” – has already been called a prediction about the rise of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.

In “The Waldo Moment,” a foul-mouthed blue cartoon bear launches a parliament bid. (Remember – this is a British show, so would be equivalent to an episode about someone running for Congress in the U.S.) The bear’s opponent has no way of coping with such an irreverent, foul-mouthed and lewd character. What happens next is now not so hard to believe – the British people fall for this irreverent blue bear, and there’s a real political race between a cartoon bear (controlled using a lot of techno gadgets) and a real political figure.  Sound familiar?

Or, take for example, society’s obsession with Facebook and other social networks. One episode from Season Three – “Nosedive” – takes a satirical look at what happens when every member of society is rated on a scale of 1-5, based on their online social status. Even worse, that social rating hovers above each person’s head as they walk around, meaning that a digital caste system emerges. Those with “social status” are able to live in the best houses and get the best jobs.

Storytelling and narrative

black-mirror-season-3

Of course, any TV show isn’t going to be successful without powerful storytelling and narrative, and this is one area where “Black Mirror” really excels. Critics, in fact, have been uncertain exactly how to describe “Black Mirror” – it’s not science fiction, because these technologies largely exist today. So some have called it “speculative fiction.” There are some episodes that are mini-war dramas, others that are police procedural shows.

What unites them all is technology. In some cases, Charlie Brooker focuses on technologies already present in 2016. In other cases, he speculates about technologies that could develop even further if we let them. For example, in the episode “The Entire History of You” from Season 1, each person has access to a memory device, which records every second of video from their lives. That’s not so far-fetched, given society’s current fascination with live streaming video and recording every element of minutiae of our lives – what we ate, who we met, where we are.

In other words, when you watch “Black Mirror,” you never really know what Charlie Brooker is going to show you next. The only thing that is certain is that it will blend elements of techno-nihilism and a healthy distrust of technology. As Brooker intones in one of the Netflix trailers for the show, the black screen of the smartphone is the first thing many of us see when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we see before we go to bed. In all the other hours, we lose ourselves to technology.

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