In a deal that made so much sense that even Fox couldn’t fuck it up, Netflix has already acquired the rights to stream the new show Gotham before the first episode has even aired. Hell; the pilot hasn’t even leaked yet, at least not to my knowledge. Deadline alleges that the cost for grabbing the early rights to Gotham is around $1.75 million an episode, or what Bruce Wayne makes during lunch. For comparison, Netflix is paying $2 million an episode for The Blacklist, which I suppose you could consider a hit.
What does all this mean? One, Netflix has a lot of money. That doesn’t surprise me though. What this really means is the streaming on demand game is changing. We may be on the verge of a veritable arms race. Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and everyone else attempting to stream on demand are all vying for your tv attention. Netflix so far is ahead of everyone by a considerable margin, and to be honest is really trendsetting the movement to streaming on demand. The rest are going to need to catch up quickly or resign themselves to playing second or third fiddle. Netflix was the first to really popularize their original tv series with a multitude of hits and while Amazon signed a deal with the elusive HBO (the only reason most people still have cable besides Comedy Central), it really hasn’t bore any fruit for them. Now, Netflix is gambling on shows before they even air, further shrinking the gap between network air dates and the Netflix air date. If Nexflix’s gamble is successful I guarantee the rest will follow suit, assuming they don’t already plan to.
Personally, I don’t think this is going to be the move that overthrows network television. I think it is actually a step away from that move. This is a sensible move toward symbiosis. I don’t expect Netflix or Hulu or any streaming on demand company to replace network television, ad revenue makes a lot of people way too many billions of dollars. What this move does portend perhaps is the acceptance of streaming on demand by television networks which will lead to a wonderful utopia where everyone loves everyone and the Lost ending didn’t suck.
The idea that television networks are beginning to embrace streaming as a second source of revenue is a good thing for television and television fans alike– consider the fact that this year alone, when three viable streaming services exist, cable subscription revenues are up by nearly half a billion dollars, continuing an upward trend that has gone on since 2011. Thanks to companies like Netflix taking risks (Fox really doesn’t have a risk here other than being on the right side of tv history for once) to move the industry forward we all may be experiencing less of a wait for new television shows for us to binge watch and talk about on Twitter. We may not even be that far off be for a network start simultaneously releasing shows on Netflix the day after it airs, a la Hulu, but without all those annoying ads.
There is another thing to consider though. Where does this take Netflix’s war against ISPs (Specifically Comcast)? Does Fox throw its weight behind Netflix or does it stay decidedly neutral? It’s hard to say and you can’t forget that Comcast owns NBC Universal (and thus also owns USA, the largest American cable network), a powerful network in its own right that also conveniently happens to own a stake in Netflix competitor Hulu (weirdly, though, so does Fox). NBC is a direct competitor to Fox so it would make sense for Fox to throw more of its weight behind Netflix. Except for a few premium channels Fox doesn’t require ISPs or cable providers to gather viewers. If Netflix was to have a partner in this war over bandwidth I think it would find a good one in Fox. Comcast and Time Warner can’t slow Fox down, people will just switch to rabbit ears (or tv antennas for those who didn’t grow up in my house).
They could attempt to throttle cable specific channels like FX and FXX but the increase in complaints they’d receive and violations to several Cable Television Consumers Rights laws would really hit their wallet. Essentially, the consumer has more right to a good quality tv viewing experience, whereas they don’t necessarily have that right when it comes to internet. Don’t worry, it doesn’t make any sense to me either.
I can’t imagine Comcast or Time Warner wanting to go against Fox and Netflix. It’d be too much alienation against two rather large sets of users. We see the kind of hornet’s nest that Fox viewers are capable of stirring up every election cycle. We also see the ruckus caused by the Net Neutrality groups that constantly work to thwart various attempts from Comcast to get their way. These groups don’t usually work together but this would be one of those beautiful moments where dogs and cats work together for the common good of binge watching The Twilight Zone without a loss in quality.
Kurt Pirsig is Loser City’s resident tech writer, you can now find him on Twitter.