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Stop the “Streamaggeddon” Articles: Netflix and the Idea of Total Media Access

Stop the “Streamaggeddon” Articles: Netflix and the Idea of Total Media Access

Every
so often, a bunch of titles are taken off of Netflix’s streaming
video-on-demand “Watch Instantly” service. This happens because the company has
time-sensitive licensing contracts with other media companies that allow access
to various movies and TV shows, just as any TV or cable network would (or any
other video-on-demand service for that matter.

However,
a meme of sorts has developed in response to this business practice: someone
figures out that a mass-expiration of Netflix titles is on the horizon and posts
such information online
. And, if that person isn’t a journalist to begin
with, a journalist will turn the information into a widely disseminated
“tempest in a teapot” news item.

The
first time this
happened
, it was because Netflix posted
expiration dates on their public website and, when a licensing deal with Starz Plan expired, removed popular
titles like Toy Story 3
. Since
then, Netflix has made attempts to suppress
such info in order to prevent bad press
, even going so far as to
rechristening their “queue” feature as the “My List” feature, which intends to
make their streaming service more personalized and accessible. Nevertheless, sequels to “Streamaggeddon”
have
happened
as online sleuths have found other ways to ascertain title
expiration information.

On
the one hand, this type of news piece is a service to a Netflix subscriber who might
want to know whether something will become unavailable on their Watch Instantly
service. Fair enough. Yet its reoccurrence suggests that people are outraged or
expected to be upset over the idea that Netflix doesn’t fully provide open,
long-lasting, and convenient access to moving image media. And even if such
outrage may have diminishing returns as the news item makes the rounds again,
the implication remains the same.

But
why? At the risk of basing a stance on a general assumption and seeming Andy
Rooney-ish, we should realize that Netflix follows a contradictory model by
this point. While they publicize themselves as emblematic of a more open, more
user-driven, more idealistic age of electronic media, they still conduct
business according to the proprietary “walled garden” model, just as
cable or telecommunication companies have done for decades.

This
isn’t entirely Netflix’s fault. The company innovates and operates within an
industry that has obstinately and slowly adjusted to the company’s increasing
popularity in the marketplace. Even if Netflix and its kind do end up changing
the rules of the media industry, Netflix still has to play by preexisting rules
in order to prosper.

Nevertheless,
the widespread notion that cloud-based streaming services should allow us
constant, all-encompassing access to content is illusory, something that is
encouraged by technological wish fulfillment, and promoted by profit-motivated,
planned-obsolescence-pushing corporations like Netflix. This isn’t to say that “On
Demand” media doesn’t have its advantages. But it isn’t full proof in practice and
should not be overemphasized or used as a basis to make physical media or its
purveyors seem outmoded.

Many
moving image works belong concretely in the world, not abstractly in the cloud.
Consider the archival standpoint: as there is still no real form of digital
archival media, preserving the moving image on film is still the best option. And,
besides repertory screenings, many things are not available on video streaming
services and only accessible via official/bootleg VHS, Laserdisc or DVD copies.
Likewise, if you own a copy of a film or TV show on a physical piece of media,
you can freely access it as long as it is playable. No corporate entity will
have the power to take it away, as opposed to their ability to block access to
any proprietary, cloud-based media that you
seem
to own.

The
“Streamageddon” news meme is reflective of a myopic mentality and should cease.
Yes, Netflix is convenient and a technological marvel, but we should know by
now that it is and will continue to be more imperfect than we would prefer. Also,
puffing-up its role and function as a content provider—which is very much the
cause of the “Streamageddon” meme—could come at the expense of limiting our
moving image media culture and its possible perpetuity even if it seems like
Netflix is doing the opposite.  And
perhaps Netflix would be more willing to post title-expiration information if we
expressed a reasonable disillusionment with their services and there was no
risk of incurring bad press as a result. (Fat chance, I know. But still.)

So
in addition to being a possible subscriber to Netflix or any other streaming
service, hold on to your DVDs/laserdiscs/VHS tapes, patronize boutique video
rental or retail stores, go to screenings, and remember that Netflix, along
with “the Cloud,” is not the be all, end all of our media access capabilities
as consumers and viewers.

Holding
degrees in Film and Digital Media studies and Moving Image Archive
Studies, Lincoln Flynn lives in Los Angeles and writes about film on a sporadic
basis at
http://invisibleworkfilmwritings.tumblr.com. His Twitter handle is @Lincoln_Flynn.

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Comments

Nathaniel Poe

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