As Netflix HQ watches what you watch, a look at where viewing habit tracking could take us in the future.
As you’re watching Netflix, Netflix is watching you. The streaming service is now watching everything you do on the network to better understand, and cater to, your television viewing habits. If nothing else, it seems like a great market research tool, and people would surely prefer that a television network screens shows they want to watch, rather than shows they don’t want to watch. (It also beats filling in surveys with 100 questions to determine the type of shows you watch, right?) Besides, it isn’t as though they are watching your facial reactions to every single moment in every single show of theirs to determine what excites you and what doesn’t. Well, not yet at least.
Netflix discovered a viewer watched the new House of Cards in its entirety with just a three minute break during its 13 hours
When BBC2 first aired, nobody would have ever dared to dream that this edifying channel would one day actually be watching them as they ate their tea to Steptoe and Son. Such an idea would have sounded like a plot strand from a 60s sci-fi. Therefore, our generation may be forgiven for thinking that Netflix’s voyeurism is as far as it will go. But television networks want to know everything about us and what we watch because there are ratings at stake – revenue, money, profits. As Netflix taps into a new way to do this, who knows what other lengths and extremes other networks will go to in the future?
What Netflix’s behaviour does is highlight how important television is to us. If it wasn’t so fundamental to our lives, and if we weren’t so bereft when our favourite show comes to an end, starving to death until the next hit comes along, and if so much money wasn’t involved, networks would not be watching us. Because of our obsession with television, networks have to be completely on the ball, knowing that one bad show from them could lose us indefinitely. Networks have always had to have foresight, anticipating what we want to see – Netflix now just has a more sophisticated way of doing it.
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Streaming is more convenient for us and, owing to its convenience, we are watching television more. We are binging on it more than ever. Streaming is cheaper than cable television, and it’s instant. But as we become more and more dependent on it, where could it take us as a society? Netflix recently discovered that one viewer watched the brand new series of House of Cards in its entirety as soon as it was released, with just a three minute break during the 13 hours that it played. This is indicative not just of the modern day thirst for television, but of the way that it is satisfied. Streaming has opened up a new vista of access to shows, meaning that we can watch what we want, pretty much when we want. This has increased demand.
We have been obsessed with television since its invention, but streaming has raised the bar. This is no longer just a love affair
Netflix is still behind corporations such as HBO in terms of profit, but it certainly has an ace up its sleeve – analytics. But we all know that it won’t be long before the other major corporations make a move and catch up. The fight for our viewing is stronger than ever. Streaming is, to use an overused phrase, a game-changer. It has introduced the idea of binging on television, and a reliance on streaming as a way of life. Our voracious appetite and demand will get stronger, with networks forced to tirelessly churn out hit after hit after hit to keep us happy, and to keep us on their channel.
The truth is that we have been obsessed with television since its invention. Cable television indulged us with its feast of channels, ranging from tonnes of sports channels to tonnes of music channels. Only streaming has raised the bar. It has further highlighted our infatuation. This is no longer a love affair – it is more than that. And yet, Netflix’s voyeuristic behaviour and increasing popularity raises many questions. What tactics will rival companies use to outdo Netflix’s analytics? What will they resort to? Spying on one another, hacking one another’s data? What will become of our role, as we shift from mere audiences to data? What kind of data of ours will be collected and stored, to be used against us, or for us?
When BBC2 first aired, there was no point in the corporation watching us, because audiences only had two shows to choose from at any one time. As television has evolved beyond all limits of comprehension, as competition has increased and money has become so abundant, corporations and networks have had no choice but to resort to new ways to be the leaders of the pack. We just have to wonder where they, and television iself, will go next.
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Featured image: 20th Century Fox
Inset image: Netflix