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The Netflix Binge Factory (vulture.com)
70 points by dannyow 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

The leeway that the creatives are given at Netflix is impressive. Contrast that with network TV programming and moviemaking at many other studios, which can be so controlled by business departments that non-creative executives even get involved in casting decisions and editing.

Brian De Palma talking about one failed project (1):

I would get stacks of notes, over and over again, from multiple sources. It’s changed. They want to be included on everything. I remember throwing executives out of the room during a reading for “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Are you kidding? I can’t have these actors performing in front of studio executives during the first reading! They claimed they wouldn’t say anything, which was nonsense. I had the same thing with the Paterno project. I said, “This is the first time Al [Pacino] has heard this material. I can’t have executives sitting here.” They were offended beyond belief — sulking, tense. I finally walked away from it. ... If you’ve seen HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” the HBO executive on that show, Len Amato — that was the guy I was dealing with. On the show, there’s Len in the editing room, making suggestions. That’s like my worst nightmare. I have never dealt with a producer in the editing room. And you can’t get final cut on television. Can you believe that Martin Scorsese doesn’t have final cut on television?

Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec) described the control that executives have over casting and other key creative decisions in his recent Fresh Air interview (2). It's depressing.

1. http://www.indiewire.com/2016/06/brian-de-palma-documetary-h...

2. https://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/2018/06/07/617872975

The article is really long so I've just skimmed over it, but overall I think the biggest change is the non-ad-driveness of Netflix. When I recall, how I've spent 15 minutes watching ads, for each 45 minutes of movie-time, I'm really horrified how anybody could waste their time like that. (and people still do)

At the same time, I think this encourages higher-quality content overall, because in standard television, the product are ad-views. You put up content only so that people watch the ads. Like clickbait articles in the internet. This is especially so, as people got used to the formula of the television dictating when to watch your movies.

Here they give you quality content, because the subscription payment is the actual value for them, and they know they'll lose it if you don't put up good enough content. (to keep up the analogy, it's like subscription based online magazines like NYT or nautilus, the content differs diametrically)

On another note, I really like the data driven approach described here. The metric of people turning off an episode of a series midways, without ever coming back to it.

While I could never watch ad interrupted media again, some of the stuff on Netflix runs longer than it should either to pad their statistics for how much media they have or to focus on product placement shots. There's a balance, and it can swing into the "make something drag on" longer than it should territory too. But it's still way better than the old TV model.

> to pad their statistics for how much media they have or to focus on product placement shots.

The important point here though is that this has nothing to do with Netflix. They don't demand a certain length nor do they require product placement. That's all on the producers and creators of the show.

If the show runners want to make a bunch of money with product placement, that's their creative tradeoff.

I thought since Netflix paid for the content they produce, they would benefit at least some amount from the product placement, such as Toyota in Narcos. I don't blame them, it is business after all, but I notice when it pulls you out of the moment.

Oh, I wholeheartedly agree that's the case sometimes, but so far I've experienced it being a really small part. Though recently I've watched a series (can't recall which unfortunately) which took at least 10 hours, which I've felt should really have only taken at most 4-5 and it totally felt like it was only to keep me watching for a longer time.

Curious which series that was. Can you check your history?

Not the person you asked but Lost in Space is a good example (IMO of course).

Can't seem to find any history feature on Netflix, and watch it again didn't help.

I've noted several times that the lack of a time limit leads to Netflix shows carrying content better off on the cutting room floor. Both television and movies have considerations for length that force cuts that... Really I've come to find value in.

Some of Netflix's Marvel shows for example, are great, but could really use a more aggressive editor.

The Defenders' individual series tend to be on the boring side. The focus tends to shift to things that hardly seem relevant to me.

However, I have not watched another Netflix series yet that suffers from the same problem.

Once you've created a concept, characters, and "world," it's really tempting to run with it for a long time. Check out just about any genre literature. See also sequelitis in movies. I don't disagree but creating a unique concept takes a lot of work and time--for which there's generally less money in TV than in film--and a lot of fans will consume it endlessly.

This could also be a matter of taste. I happen to like “long form” media because of the detailing it enables; this almost certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

I'm not sure if that's what the parent meant. I'm on the same side, I'm not really watching movies anymore, there's too little depth to the world there. It's amazing how much you can make the world and characters deep and interesting in series. It's the same situation as movies vs books.

The problem is when there really only is enough interesting content for 4-5 hours and you feel like half the series is there only as a filler. Handmaid's tale is an example that comes to my mind. I like the series overall, but it's 2-3x times as long as it should be in my opinion.

Most of the true crime documentaries really suffer from padding. They are often 8-10 hour long episodes that really could have been done in 1 or 2.

I have to concur with this 100%, most true crime shows from Netflix have felt padded, something where I feel like if the podcast Criminal can make an enthralling episode about an event, the TV versions should be adding a lot more for the 10 hour version. In fact, the only "true crime" series I can think of actually completing is American Vandal, which was not only engaging but laugh out loud hilarious as it mocked itself. I'm truly curious to see if they can capture it in a season 2 without it being a repeat of the same. Of course, there could be some personal taste and behavioral patterns that endear the audible versions of that format more compelling (I usually listen to podcasts during times when I'm not able to be distracted with a phone, articles and texts, such as when I'm driving, yard work, or walking the dog). It could just be that the format for TV relies far more on imagery and visual cues when produced for the screen. I do know that I really haven't seen a real true crime TV series keep me engaged beyond an episode or three, which probably just means I fall out of a different "taste cluster", but there are just some shows that can use visual imagery to enhance a non-fictional topic (Vox's Explained comes to mind here). Unless there is a lot of in-depth information, and a way to make it salient to the story, it's hard for me to value the time commitment.

Likewise, even fictional shows with short seasons can feel tedious at times, which for me, many happen to be British shows, though not all (I enjoyed Safe, but got really bored during Collateral and The Fall, both of which I've heard great things, but much of the storylines just ended up feeling as if scenes were there to "enhance the tension", but served some other purpose). Again maybe super personal and cultural, but I do love long format television, just please give me a reason to keep caring about the outcome without having to wind down some plot rabbit hole).

I might just be impatient and a typical American who is affixed with getting "a hook" somewhere in the first 3 episodes, or I'm probably going to give something else a try. And there are quite a few really good foreign series that I enjoyed, (such as The Rain and 3%) and then some domestic and international shows that put me in the same taste cluster as shows like Dark, The OA and Sense8 that really just never connect. I'm not sure if that's a padding issue per se, but I guess anything that you're not really getting into just feels tedious after a while.

Not enough editing is a problem that happens in other media too. The Hobbit film trilogy (why?), Twin Peaks The Return, and Robert Jordan novels come to mind. Often kicks in when people don't have anyone with enough authority to tell famous artists "this scene sucks, cut it".

Netflix is a double-edged sword. You no longer need to fill time for a format, so you can murder your darlings to your heart's content. On the other hand, there's such a tiny incentive to make a show shorter, that there aren't enough voices telling directors to cut the dead weight.

The article directly attributes the ability to scale content to not being locked down by time slots. A conventional network has only a few primetime time slots per weekday evening, and that fundamentally limits the number of new shows (and renewals of old shows) that an individual network can produce. Netflix isn't limited by time slots; if conventional network A shows a sci-fi show at 8 PM on Monday night and conventional network B shows a different sci-fi show at 8 PM on Monday night, they compete with each other for viewers. If Netflix releases both shows at the same time, viewers will stream one show and then stream the other show after they finish the first - not a competition, but a value-add. Neither A nor B can show both a drama and an action show at the same time on the same network, they would have to collude and share profits. Netflix can release both simultaneously to different audiences.

Netflix's streaming model is strictly better than the broadcast model. It has little to do with the revenue sourcing.

I actually like ads. Just not too much of it. It is the same for me from Newspaper, TV or Web. However I just don't want crap, poor quality, not well thought out, repetitive ads.

> As they spend more time watching, the company can collect more data on their viewing habits, allowing it to refine its bets about future programming.

This is a big advantage for Netflix. Live-TV cable companies don't have the same luxury of picking and choosing specific content, as they buy all-in to a single stream of ABC's content, NBC's content, etc. If there's an NBC show you like on Thursday at 8pm EST via Comcast, you know it will be available at 7pm CST in the Midwest via, say, Mediacom. There's not that much wiggle room. Analytics isn't all that useful unless you can deliver specific content, which is exactly how Netflix works.

There is a danger to this. While Netflix is producing more and more shows, I find them to be more and more "samey". It's as if their algorithm decided there are only X number of categories for shows and they're trying to make everything the most SOMETHING of its category. Good shows have that (call it originality), but great shows also have nuance, and I can't recall the last Netflix show I've seen that had anything resembling that.

That one netflix show, Ozark, with Jason Bateman, is just like that. "Samey".

It's like the show was written by a robot trained on Breaking Bad and The Wire. It has all the building blocks of a hit show, but it totally lacks any personality or inspiration.

Don't get me wrong, Bateman's performance is just great, but the material is so blah. You can tell the show thinks it's much smarter than it really is.

I think we'll start seeing more of those shows on Netflix. People binge the hell out of Breaking Bad, so we got Ozark. I'm sure we'll eventually see their own "The Office", because people binge the hell out of that, too.

I agree with you as I've binged many a TV show, but Netflix's algorithm doesn't feel right, just yet, though from the article, it seems like overall the data isn't the driver, just a guide, and it definitely helps put me on the right direction to look. They seem to be focusing on the personal side of viewing, instead of just broad assumptions. And they even seem to be aware of the fact that we're often different personas depending on the day of the week or time of day (example: I've been watching the Andy Griffith Show at night to wind down for bed, and after a certain time at night, my Continue Watching list places Andy Griffith first ahead of the last TV show I watched), so while I think it could lead to a lot of tropes and send ups of the same basic show, at least according to the article and my own anecdota, they do seem to culturally realize that the data should lead to better personal viewing preferences.

Well, sounds like movies and TV in general, though.

This article is fantastic.

As an American who likes the occasional UK show, I have the possibly mistaken impression that BBC shows run on a more similar model to Netflix. It seems like they will tell a story for about as long as the original idea is interesting and then the show ends.

In the U.S. it seems like anything popular will get milked as long as possible.

Oddly, it seems like even in the Netflix model there are "series" and "movie" categories that mirror film and TV running lengths and seasons.

It would be interesting to see more deviations from that pattern. Shorter serials with longer episodes. Marathon length features.

Black Mirror is the best example of a non-traditional show as far as episode length and quantity and I think it works quite well.

Note that Black Mirror started on Channel 4, a public service regulated, but privately-owned broadcast channel.

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