Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: July 2022

Netflix and Ciao!

Deliberately or otherwise, Netflix’s recent public statements show they do not understand their customers. Part of me feels sorry for them, as they predicted the future trends of media consumption with clarity and adapted with alacrity. Their original business of mailing out DVDs by post is a dim memory as they recognised the importance of streaming early enough that they became the de facto streaming platform worldwide, reaching 222 million subscriptions. They also correctly realised the biggest threat to their dominance would be the greed of studios not wanting to share profits with a delivery platform, meaning that original content would be key to a viable future. Despite this, in chasing capitalism’s dragon of endless growth, Netflix’s price has been escalating rapidly and after their latest hike in June — having been a subscriber ever since they revived Arrested Development in 2013 — I’m out, at least for a while. As they warn their shareholders of tumbling subscriber numbers, it seems I am not alone.

Are you not content?

There was a time when “Netflix Original” was a badge of quality — two of their first three shows were Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. As they grew the library, there was a clear shift toward quantity over quality, particularly with the desire to expand to a mainstream audience who may be less attracted by high quality drama. The plus side for creatives is that Netflix was willing to greenlight a lot of projects with very little oversight. But the money for this untargeted spending had to come from somewhere and it has meant repeated price hikes without any clear increase in the value proposition to subscribers. Why would I want to pay more year on year for service when: (a) I have the same finite time to spend watching TV; and (b) I have no interested in huge swathes of the programming they were now funding?

As recently as 2018 Netflix acquired distribution rights for Alfonso Cuáron’s beautiful Roma, which won three Oscars. Yet it is Apple TV+ that procured the first Best Picture win for a streaming service’s film with CODA. Netflix’s metrics-driven approach appears to reward films with big name actors regardless of quality, since those are most likely to attract viewers’ attention. Indeed, it’s easy for excellent films to get lost entirely through Netflix’s algorithm-driven promotion.

Now Apple Originals bear the distinction of quality that Netflix Originals once had, with a small but highly curated set of shows like Ted Lasso, Mythic Quest, and Severance. Meanwhile Disney’s well-timed acquisition of 20th Century Studios has granted them a deep library of content beyond their family fare, even as the desire to push new content to Disney+ has arguably undermined Phase 4 of the MCU.

It all ends in tiers

There is more to it than just increased competition. I have tried subscriptions to NowTV, Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Dropout, so I have a broad view of the market. A “standard” Netflix subscription is priced at around double what its competitors costs and, unlike several of them, it doesn’t include 4K UHD video at that price.

As Netflix takes steps to prevent account sharing, it highlights my biggest problem with the company’s subscription tiers: tying together quality and simultaneous streams. As someone who lives alone, I have no need ever to stream to multiple devices at once. Yet, to receive the best image quality, I am required to pay for the option to stream to four devices simultaneously. That might be good value for a family but it’s terrible for an individual. No wonder, then, that some people are inclined to share accounts in order to make use of the multiple streams that they are obliged to pay for.

Knives In

I receive increasingly bizarre emails from Netflix asking me to rejoin: “We’re ready when you are.” / “Let’s reunite.” / “Spend on experiences not things. Make time for rest, relaxation and some Netflix.” Their latest puts £6.99 in the subject line, again entirely misunderstanding the reason I left if they are pitching me the price for a below-HD quality stream. For the same reason, I don’t think a reduced price ad-supported tier is going to resolve their current woes (a free ad-supported tier might attract those who just want to watch a few Netflix shows, but I doubt that is sustainable).

I would like to see Netflix remain competitive but to do that their starting point has to be consumer needs rather than investor expectations. Having a great technology back-end means nothing if you are pricing users away from making use of its higher quality. Attacking users for making use of the multi-stream packages you are forcing them to buy is even worse.

There remains plenty of good content on Netflix and I will certainly subscribe at some point to catch up on The Witcher, Stranger Things, Arcane, Better Call Saul, and The Umbrella Academy. However, it is no longer the essential subscription it once was and, for now, it falls into the tumble of subscriptions that I’ll shift between every few months.

Leezy Does It

Since my radio consumption is now exclusively via podcasts and I don’t tend to use music streaming services, exposure to new music has become much harder. In fact, the primary routes through which I currently discover new artists are film and TV soundtracks, and — believe it or not — Tik Tok. Whilst Tik Tok tends to package trending sounds into comodified memes, there are also a number of great musicians using Tik Tok videos and live streams to propel their music out into the world. A recent discovery has been American singer-songwriter Leezy.

Content note: addiction

Mama says you can’t reach the dreams in the
Little cloud that leaks from your pipe but
Every time I light up it seems that I don’t know how
No, I don’t know how to be alone.

Leezy, Bathtub Blues

Lately, Leezy has become the soundtrack to my broken sleep, often tuning into her live streams from the US at 3am in London. Musical comparisons to Lana del Rey and Mazzy Star are common in the chat, but a British ear will recognise some of her older influences like the fragility of Portishead, and the delicate simplicity of Massive Attack.

Despite her youth, there is a poetic depth to Leezy’s lyrics. During her live streams she speaks openly about her battle with addiction to drugs and alcohol as teenager, having now been sober for three years. That lived experience permeates her songwriting. Her last single, Sierra, is named after the residential treatment facility at which she recovered.

Leezy illustration

Look at all the pretty faces
Come to heal from different places
You give it all away in hope of a better day
And I promised you that I’ll get well

Leezy, Sierra

Leezy is self-aware about her affluent upbringing and the privilege it afforded her, particularly when it came to turning her life around. But what her music captures is that affluence does not provide protection from emotional pain, which she delivers in a minimalist style that is both raw and beautiful. The bisexual confusion of Girls Like You is provocative social commentary both lyrically (“So then why’d she kiss me last Friday night? / Just cause she thought it was something the boys might like”) and through the increasingly less subtle euphemistic sapphic imagery of its music video.

He said my lips felt warm when we were kissing
But only after he’d made me cry
And he said, “baby, I didn’t mean it this time”
And stargazer lillies don’t make up for everything
But I always go back to hear him sing

Leezy, Stargazer

I was initially won over by several songs on her 2019 Dear Diary EP. After requesting a song during one live stream, we discussed how she now has to transpose those songs to perform them because her voice has changed from the time they were recorded when she was smoking daily. I am glad that she does not find talking or singing about those periods to be a trigger. Indeed, her next single — due for imminent release on 29th July — is bluntly titled Cocaine Kisses and is, in her own words, about the romanticisation of drug use, the seduction of addiction and the illusion of connection. As someone whose views on addiction were shaped by Johann Hari’s TED Talk about the link between addiction and isolation or disconnection, to me this combination of themes seems entirely on point and I can’t wait to hear it.

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2022 Priyan Meewella

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