Manual The DVD Novel: How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch

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Instead of paying for cable plans, a growing number of Americans are cutting the cord and only using streaming services. At the same time, Netflix users are increasing. Consumers prefer the flexibility of being able to watch what they want when they want to. One of the biggest factors for consumers deciding how to view content is the programming. Original content is what stands out to viewers.

They can watch most network shows in multiple places, but they can only get original content straight from Netflix. The content creation side of the company seems to be hitting on all cylinders. The Netflix original movie Bird Box was watched by 45 million accounts its first weekend.

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When translated to box office dollars, the movie would smash anything currently in theaters. Netflix was one of the first companies to use new internet technology to drive nearly its entire business model. The service started as a mail-order DVD company, but now just a sliver of its customers actually get their DVDs by mail. Instead, Netflix relies on the internet to share its products with customers around the world.

The online business model has also allowed Netflix to collect huge amounts of data on its customers.

The recommendations are usually incredibly accurate. In an age where brands across all industries are trying to predict what customers want next and create personalized recommendations, Netflix is setting the bar. Netflix also understands the need to constantly be innovating.

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The company has changed drastically from its original form of a DVD service. Enjoying television required an improbable intersection of content and moment. And still, we watched. Oh boy did we watch. By the mids leisure time came to be dominated by a medium that barely existed 10 years before. They demanded that we gather in front of the TV set at times of their choosing, not ours.

We were willing to overlook that imperfection because the way TV worked was the only thing we had. There were lots more channels, sure, but they followed the familiar motif of linear scheduling. If we happened to arrive home 12 minutes after the opening scenes of a Superstation WTBS sitcom, we were screwed. Mechanisms to address this flaw started to crop up around the same time. VCRs enabled those of us with enough skills and willingness to tinker to record television and play it back later. That this was a stupendous departure from the TV norm was certain.

That it was a flawed and limited way to achieve the goal of time-shifting at scale also was apparent. Most of us never even twiddled with the correct VCR clock setting; anecdotes about VCRs forever blinking are common.

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Within a few years of their introduction, VHS and Beta machines instead were mainly used to play back pre-recorded tapes. Ritual Friday evening visits to the Blockbuster Video store became commonplace. We were learning both to time-shift and select our TV content, and we were willing to put up with bothersome friction long lines at the store; empty shelves where the movie we wanted used to be stacked; penalties for failing to rewind tapes to get to it.

Hastings, who likes to tell an instructive story about renting a copy of Apollo 13 from a local Blockbuster store, must have experienced what we all experienced: a glum acquiescence to imperfection. A demand that we machete our way through a jungle of inconvenience to get a movie or TV show to appear on our glass screen when we said so, not when the suits said so.

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The lesson from the Blockbuster era was just that: there was a big appetite for on-demand video. And for choose-your-own content. But there was still no real scale to the process, no way to make it convenient, ever-present and easy. You no longer had to drive to Blockbuster, but you still had to show up on time. Movies on pay-per-view suffered from the same inadequacy as television of the s: you had to be there at p. The breakthrough would start in the late s. It chronicled various investments and pursuits being made to achieve a sort of Holy Grail of television possibility: The ability to watch what you wanted albeit from a limited selection of titles and — this was the breakthrough — the ability to watch when you wanted.

A TV three-way It was a remarkable feat, borne of three separate pathways to the screen. Two visionary companies, TiVo Inc. The third leg was streaming video, brute-forced to market by pioneers like Real Networks of Seattle, whose determined CEO Rob Glaser would tell anyone within listening distance that an Internet known for hopelessly frustrating wait times and drip-drip-drip page downloads could one day support video streaming at scale.

The DVD Novel: How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch

Glaser used a music video from the artist Jewel to demonstrate streaming video; not because he loved Jewel, but because she tended not to move much during her performances; the better for improving digital compression outcomes. Hastings would have been in his late 30s then. A few years before, per Netflix lore, he had famously mailed himself an audio CD in a blue greeting-card envelope in what has to be the greatest, simplest business case proof of concept ever realized. The point is this: We were attacking video-on-demand with vigor and energy.

We were figuring this stuff out. But we were doing it in incremental, halting steps.

Nobody realized what we were setting up: An opportunity for a single company to harness the power of these disparate conceits in one fell swoop. While cable companies were slowly and carefully beginning to build up their video-on-demand businesses over digitally empowered subsets of proprietary networks, Hastings was thinking about bypassing them entirely by putting video on the Internet where anybody with a computer and a web browser could get it.

While DVRs were storming the landscape, Netflix was making an extraordinary sideline deal with the pay-TV network company Starz Media for gobs of movies Hastings could stream on the cheap. What it did was swoop in. Cable was meticulous, guarded and careful with video-on-demand. Blockbuster was happy to continue renting videos, fulfilling an appetite for on-demand video experiences in a clumsy way. And TV networks kept relying on historical audience flow patterns divined from an earlier age of linear broadcasting. Meanwhile, amazingly, nobody in television was paying much attention to what was happening in Silicon Valley, where companies like Apple were preparing to introduce new forms of glass screens to a world that, until then, had known only one means to get moving pictures and sound to appear before its eyes.

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I suspect around this time — this would have been mids, maybe a year or two before Netflix started transforming from a DVD-by-mail company to a streaming company — Hastings realized something. The person who could produce a symmetry of three things was going to rule: A massive content library; a mechanism for getting pictures and sound to people at massive scale; and a massive head start.

Those of you who read closely noticed the repetition there of a key word.

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His advantage was based on distraction and inertia and small thinking. Cable was too timid and too slow to realize what it had with early video-on-demand implementations. Television networks of the day were perfectly happy collecting billions of dollars for old-school linear distribution of content. Network infrastructure companies were thrilled to charge people for supercharged broadband Internet connectivity, which was growing exponentially.

Hastings was the first to sew it all together: a huge content library with a vast streaming infrastructure with an affordable price point that would travel over the Internet.

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He was way out in front by the time cable even looked up. Why this matters is: Remember the original conceit for watching television. You wanted something good to appear on the screen. It was a real thing. Nobody thought that there was a better idea out there. Or if they did, like the cable industry, they relegated it to a secondary role on the stage. Video on demand was never seen as a huge moneymaker for cable; it was a nice add-on and a handy successor to the limited pay-per-view idea.

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