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From Movie Rentals to Binge Culture

Every once in a while, a new company comes around that completely revolutionizes the way in which we consume media. In 1985, for instance, a little company from Dallas, Texas was founded, and it would come to dominate the 1990s and early 2000s with its innovative spin on providing access to movies by providing people the option of renting films (and eventually video games) for a much lower price than purchasing them outright. This company, of course, is Blockbuster. Once valued at $5 billion in 1996, today Blockbuster is worth only 17 cents a share, with one remaining storefront in Bend, Oregon.

Although Blockbuster has entirely imploded, there is no denying the influence that the company has had on the media landscape of today. Their reimagined model of movie ‘ownership’ opened the doors for new and more innovative companies to further redefine how media content is consumed – by challenging the notion of ownership, streaming services of the 21st century were able to apply newer forms of technology to Blockbuster’s initial idea, resulting in more convenient and profitable ways to propagate media content to the masses. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, then, Blockbuster sowed the seeds of its own demise.

The streaming service that is most frequently credited with slaying the giant that was Blockbuster, of course, is Netflix. A streaming service that truly needs to introduction, Netflix is, in many ways, the pivotal streaming service – the website that is currently doing for media consumption in the 21st century what Blockbuster did in the 90s … it has shifted the paradigm completely.

Netflix has become nothing short of a global cultural phenomenon. It is one of those rare companies that transcends merely providing a good or service; it has created a lifestyle. If it weren’t for Netflix, for example, and its continuously growing roster of addictive series, nobody would be talking about bingeworthy content today. This entire concept of ‘binging’ a TV series from start to finish is a result of Netflix’s novel idea to release entire seasons of content at once. There is no more waiting for your favorite TV show’s latest episode to be released one week at a time This was a subtle but brilliant move on Netflix’s behalf, if you ask me, because the more time a viewer spends on your streaming site, the more likely they are to become loyal to it.

Netflix was not always the untouchable behemoth of streaming that we know and love today, though. In fact, when it was founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph, the possibility of becoming a streaming-only platform with over 148 million paid subscribers was not really in the cards quite yet – the technology wasn’t fully there yet. Randolph and Hastings anticipated the fact that within a decade, though, it would be, and so they proceeded anyway. A potentially risky gamble that has certainly paid off, I’d say, about a million times over.

The Originators of the Streaming Phenomenon

When Netflix first went live, its initial business model was similar to that of Blockbuster’s. It was to be an online alternative, a website from which customers could purchase and rent DVDs. Within one year of the company’s existence, however, Netflix forewent the sales aspect, switching their focus entirely to DVD rentals. This was the first nail in Blockbuster’s inevitable coffin. By the time 2010 rolled around, Netflix began to look like the streaming content provider we are more familiar with today, providing users with an online platform to stream certain titles directly instead of renting the physical copy DVD.

Two years later in 2012, Netflix began its creation of original content. Eventually, it has been rumored, Netflix intends to focus almost entirely on its original TV shows and films. This is one of those rare companies that continues to grow and evolve – one of the many reasons for its unprecedented success as a streaming site. If it weren’t for Netflix’s staunch tendency towards innovation and improvement, it is safe to say that we wouldn’t have most of the other streaming sites that we enjoy today, such as Hulu, Prime Video, and Disney Plus. Netflix paved the way and continues to enjoy a staggeringly large percentage of the market share of streaming services worldwide.

Iconic and Flawless Site Design and Functionality

Netflix’s consistent success, however, is not entirely due to its unique approach and bold vision. Execution, of course, must follow any great idea in order for it to thrive. Which brings me to Netflix’s site design. Once you have signed up for your free one-month trial period, you will be greeted by one of the most iconic web layouts ever coded. It’s the site design that countless other streaming sites have been trying to emulate, to varying degrees of success, ever since it first went live.

Content is, for the most part, curated specifically for you based on a personalized algorithm that learns your viewing habits. At the very top of the page, you will find a featured movie, comedy special, or TV show which will automatically play a preview to pique your curiosity. Scroll down, though, and you will see an impeccably organized list of varying types of content … all of which is separated by category, starting with Popular on Netflix and Trending Now.

The design is minimal and streamlined, simply scroll through, left and right, on any given category to view more content without having to do too much clicking through the site. The Netflix site design is the industry standard for streaming sites, and it is so because of its convenience and easy usability. Whether you are streaming on your smart phone, desktop PC, or laptop, the experience will be optimized, quick, and universally the same.

Keeping on the topic of user experience, Netflix’s streaming quality is virtually flawless. So long as you have a halfway decent internet signal, you can expect few to no issues in video quality, buffer time, or playback. This is not something that every major streaming service can say. Perhaps you are familiar with Prime Video’s often glitchy media player, or HBO Go’s tendency to frequently drop in and out of service. Netflix, however, has quite possibly the most consistently solid video streaming quality of any site or app of its kind.

Quantity, Quality, and Award-Winning Original Content

The fact that content streams rather flawlessly, though, does not mean much if the actual content that Netflix offers isn’t worth streaming, right? Well, luckily for would-be Netflix users, the site offers hundreds of hours of quality programming. Whether you like timeless classic movies – like Indiana Jones, The Matrix, Rocky, and Pulp Fiction (to name a but a few) – or you’d rather binge your favorite comfort sitcoms like The Office; Friends; The Good Place; and Parks and Recreation, Netflix will have you covered.

And we have not even begun to touch on enormous and constantly growing list of award-winning Netflix original movies and series. Netflix subscribers have exclusive access to a ton of critically acclaimed original content, much of which has more than enough star power to keep even the pickiest cinephile content. One of a kind titles, such as the new Martin Scorsese gangster film, The Irishman (starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci); the popular adult animated series, Bojack Horesman; and the Emmy award-winning true crime docuseries, Making a Murderer, are just a few of the instant classics that can only be found on Netflix.

Plus, if you like standup comedy, there is probably no better streaming service out there. Netflix pumps out so many new, original comedy specials that it has become something of a meme at this point. They hosted Dave Chapelle’s epic return to the stage, providing comedy lovers with 4 new Dave Chapelle specials in 2 years (thanks to a reported $4 million deal) – quite a feat considering the controversial comedian hadn’t performed standup in over a decade before that. In addition, Netflix seems to put out at least 2 new standup specials each month, making it a hub for comedy’s new golden age.

Missed Opportunities and Missed Marks

Is there anything that I don’t love about Netflix? Well, sure there is … no online service is perfect. There are a few missed opportunities, I think, as far as features are concerned. The most notable of which is the fact that users cannot create playlists. The Netflix platform, it would seem, lends itself perfectly to a customized playlists feature. Love a particular episode of a series, but you aren’t in the mood to watch several episodes of it? Well, why not be able to simply add that episode to a playlist of your own curation? If Netflix would add this feature to its already very personalized user experience, no streaming service would be able to touch it.

Another complaint regards the site’s original content. As I mentioned earlier, Netflix does have plenty of great original content. However, what I did not touch upon yet is the fact that for every incredible Netflix series or movie, there is a terrible one. I understand that they are trying to pump out as much original content as possible to try and differentiate Netflix from competitors, but I wish that the content wasn’t quite as hit-or-miss as it tends to be.

All in all, though, if you are looking for one of the best streaming site experiences available, look no further than the originators and industry leaders of online media streaming. There is always a lot of buzz surrounding Netflix, and I can say with confidence that it is well-deserved.

Likes & Hates:
Tons of diverse content
Incredible, iconic site design
Glitch-free, fast streaming
Award-winning original content
Mobile friendly
No playlist creation
Original content can be hit or miss