According to BARB (the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board), 3 million households in the UK have Netflix. The only paid for viewing service with more subscribers is Sky with over 10 million homes in the UK signed up. So, what is it about Netflix that makes it so popular?
Some people might argue that it is the convenience of Netflix that makes everyone use it. You can watch it on your computer, tablet, smartphone, or TV with certain Blu-Ray players, Virgin Media, and, later in the year, with YouView boxes. Signing up with Facebook makes it super quick and having the option for multiple users means that you are not being recommended films/TV shows based on what someone else in your house has watched. Netflix is particularly popular with people between the ages of 16 and 24 and this may be due to the convenience of multiple devices or the ‘cool’ factor.
Is Netflix ‘cool’? It can certainly feel very isolating when everyone is talking about a TV program you haven’t watched because you don’t have Netflix. An example of this is Breaking Bad. Everyone was talking about it for a while there and it was exclusively available on Netflix in the UK. House of Cards was another Netflix-only show that people seemed to go crazy about. Certainly, shows like Hemlock Grove and American Horror Story are clearly aimed at young people and have a big ‘coolness’ factor.
It is not just ‘cool’ young people who are watching Netflix though. Salon.com point out that one of the big attractions of the service is the ease with which you can ‘binge-watch’ a TV series. They state that over half of the ‘Popular on Netflix’ section on the site is taken up with TV programs and the way it is set up means that you can simply sit back and let it play one episode after another.
Oddly, Salon.com suggest that the increased popularity of TV shows is down to the fact that they are shorter and feel like ‘less of a commitment’ than films. Viewers can tell themselves that they are just sitting down to a 30 or 40-minute episode but can then go on to watch for 4 hours. It is also possible that we see TV shows as something to have on ‘in the background’ while doing other things whereas a film is something to sit down and focus on. This means that it is entirely possible that people are putting Netflix on in the same way that they used to put the TV on and just let it play in the background.
An even more ‘passive’ form of viewing, which is very easy with Netflix, is to watch something that you have already watched. Theatlantic.com states that watching something you have already seen takes less mental energy to process and, thus, might feel like a good way to relax after a stressful day. Also, if you are putting Netflix on while you are doing other things, you will feel less obliged to sit and focus on something you have already seen.
All round, it seems as if the convenience and ease of use make Netflix so popular rather than its content. Some people commenting on the internet have pointed out that the films are actually quite dated but then, if people are so fond of watching things they have already watched this could be part of the appeal.