Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bought or Sold: The Difference Between #Netflix/#AmazonPrime and TV/Film

There's a difference between audiovisual works produced for subscription services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) and for traditional mass media (movie theaters and broadcast TV). I could go the "social justice warrior" route and critique demographics of actors and content or whatever, but I'll only briefly touch on that, if at all. The difference between Netflix/Amazon Prime and TV/film really has to do with one thing: Money.

I recently finished watching the first season Aziz Ansari's Master of None on Netflix. It is an endearing show that deals with sort of serious topics in a non-cynical, humorous way. It tries to make the audience want to be kinder to one another, and perhaps it will have success in that manner. I personally enjoyed all 10 episodes of the show.

There's little chance that this sort of sitcom-dramedy could survive on network or commercial-filled cable TV. Dev Shah's (Aziz Ansari's character) anti-Seinfeld band of non-stereotypical friends wouldn't survive in a TV environment that thrives on conventional tropes. TV producers rely on stereotypes for content, as well as target audiences that -- consciously or subconsciously -- accept and expect stereotypes. TV producers want target audiences to feel entitled to this sort of status quo.

Master of None is basically a 30-something sitcom, and a typical 30-something-related sitcom on network TV has commercials, like any other TV show. Those commercials want to sell stuff, like cell phone data plans, lawn mowers, and eye makeup, to the target audience. If the ratings are low for a show, then the commercials won't have an audience, stuff isn't sold, and the show gets cancelled. To minimize the risk of wasted airtime on a probably-soon-to-be-cancelled show, producers have to rely on audience-friendly, stereotypical, genre-adhering tropes -- in content and in casting. In other words, a network TV show probably won't have two South Asian-descent guys with North American accents interacting with one another anytime soon, let alone three or more -- unless stereotypes are involved.

TV producers tend to be apprehensive whether that scenario can sell the latest mid-priced Toyota to audiences.

Netflix, on the other hand, already has $7.99 per month from a lot of people, so they could produce whatever they want, on top of the streaming movies from years ago. This model will probably hold, as long as they have enough subscribers already in the system. If there is a crisis in that subscriber model, then Netflix will probably reduce its original content and rely on stereotypical tropes like network TV. That would be an awful fate.

I also binge-watched the first season of the Marvel superhero show Jessica Jones. It is a dark, heavy show, in the same vein as Daredevil, which is also on Netflix. Unlike Disney-Marvel's movies, this Disney-Marvel Netflix show has the time to develop characters, especially villains. I had no regrets watching all 13 episodes.

It's a bit strange that Disney-Marvel's first female leads were on network TV (Agent Peggy Carter) and Netflix (Jessica Jones), but Black Widow is still a supporting character or part of an ensemble in the movies. Like TV's reliance on commercials, the movies need their target audiences to purchase movie tickets, and in the case of family-friendly franchises, toys and related merchandise.

While it is likely that the darker, grittier Jessica Jones won't sell Happy Meals anytime soon, it's pretty weird that we're still waiting for a female-lead Marvel movie. I think there's a Captain Marvel movie in the works (Marvel's Captain Marvel is a woman, where DC's male Captain Marvel was re-branded as Shazam!). There is no reported Black Widow movie in the works. It's obvious that Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has the fanbase to sell movie tickets and toys, but there is no solo movie and cheap action figures are few and far-between.

I suspect that movie producers and other executives, especially those who deal with big budgets, tend to not take risks. They rely on safe routes in order to get money from target audiences. The sad thing in all of this is that target audiences tend to accept the artificial world and limitations created by producers, who just want their money.

Netflix already has subscribers' money. Amazon has an advantage over Netflix, in which Amazon Prime's main purpose is for free shipping. All the subscription-based music, movies, and shows are just icing on the cake. Amazon, like Netflix, is mostly free to produce whatever it wants -- trope-reliant or not. Amazon is already selling stuff to people; it really doesn't need shows to do the advertising.

Then we have cable TV. Premium cable, like HBO, doesn't rely on advertisers, so it can produce whatever it wants. Regular cable is kind of weird because it has subscribers and relies on advertising. Cable is kind of a crap shoot: For every rare Breaking Bad, there's a bunch of crap that ultimately just wants to sell stuff to people via commercials.

As far as YouTube goes, there is a wealth of good content, mediocre content, and a variety of popular content of varying quality. It seems apparent that YouTube stars who try to crossover to traditional media are somewhat molded to fit into something more conventional -- but you be the judge of that.

Here's to not believing what producers have to say about you!

Four down, two more to go in this end of November blogging marathon. Cheers!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please note: Comments are open only for seven days after publication of each blog entry.