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TCA Winter 2016 Tour: Quick Takes from the Netflix Presentations

JessicaJones Netflix

Twice a year various cable and networks attend the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour where they promote new and returning television shows through a series of daily panels and exclusive preview clips spanning over a two week period.  The tour presentations provide a way for television shows to get traction and attention of the hundreds of TV critics who then in turn will hopefully write about and promote those shows to their various audiences via online and print media outlets.

This Winter’s TCA tour included presentations from Netflix, who presented on the thirteenth day of the tour.  Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:

EXECUTIVE SESSION

Right away Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos addressed the questions of “peak TV” and the much-hyped Netflix ratings released by NBC last week.  Ted Sarandos said that Netflix does not think there is too much TV right now and, that if there is, someone else would have to slow down as Netflix has no intention of slowing down on ordering new original content and series.  People want choices — choices in how and where and when to watch — and Netflix is answering that demand.

Currently, Netflix notes that entire households are benefiting from personalization of choices of content and Netflix is offering “family packages” so each member can choose what they want to watch, on any device, at any time. Long gone are the days when a family home only had one television set in the living room, or even the days when there are two television sets: one in the living room and one in the bedroom.  We now live in an era where each member has a screen — whether it is a television set, a laptop or desktop computer, an iPad or tablet, or an iPhone or smartphone.  Plus, with the abundance and prevalence of “second screen” options, every single person has multiple ways of accessing entertainment content — TV set, computer, phone or tablet — and in some cases, people are choosing to use more than one way to access content and sometimes using more than one device at a time.  And Netflix is poised to exploit all those options.  It wants its content to be accessible by everyone — anywhere and anytime.

Netflix strives to have new and exciting original content to offer to singles, to couples, to parents, to teens, to tweens and even younger age groups.  It refuses to be boxed in or limited by ratings, demographics or even one category of subscribers.  Netflix just wants to have it all and offer it all — and grow its subscriber base in the process. So Netflix’s overall goal is to meet all its subscribers personal desires — unless it is providing news and sports, which are two arenas that Netflix has no intention of jumping into at the moment.  In fact, in 2016, Netflix is doubling down on providing enticing, creative and original content specifically for kids and family.  25 of Netflix’s new shows are aiming for teenagers and tweens, which includes the new reboot of FULLER HOUSE and ordering the show A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, as well as expanding more with action and mature genre series for older teens.

Netflix currently plans on offering 600 hours of original content this year and already has in excess of 55 adult, original TV series in production and more coming — and that does not include the 45 series it is proving to children.

Briefly addressing the brouhaha over NBC’s claimed ratings for Netflix shows, Ted Sarandos brushed it off with a quip: “Tracking Netflix’s numbers is more interesting than NBC tracking its own, I guess.” He continued to skew his point home with: “Why would NBC use their lunch slot with you to talk about our ratings? Maybe it’s more fun than talking about NBC ratings.” He also emphatically said that NBC’s Netflix viewing data does not accurate reflect Netflix’s data and the 18-49 demographic that NBC used means nothing to Netflix.  (Note:  Netflix does not sell advertising spots for demo groups like networks and cable providers do; instead Netflix relies only on revenue from subscriptions and it does not care if the subscriber is 18 years old or 84 years old.)  Sarandos also clarified that NBC’s data does not reflect any reality of what Netflix tracks.  Networks and cable providers have to sell for specific age groups, whereas Netflix does not.  Also, and perhaps most tellingly, Sarandos said:  “The ‘sample sets’ do not give you a lot of information.”  And he is right.  Taking data from a very tiny window of time, like over 24 hours, one week or even 4 weeks, does not give you an accurate reflection of a total viewership — particularly in the case of Netflix, where subscribers can binge-watch anytime– whether it is the day a new show is released, a week later, a month later or several months, or even years later.  Netflix only strives to have content that attracts new subscribers, and meets the needs and desires of its current subscribers.  (Observation:  I admire Netflix’s determination to value viewers and subscribers as whole, not parcel them into demos and pieces like cable/broadcast networks.)

Ambitious and aggressive, Netflix has no intention of slowing down its pursuit of quality original content that attracts new subscribers.  It knows that its current subscribers have a voracious appetite for content, so in order to “feed the beast” (e.g., its subscribers), Netflix announced that it is going to spend $6 billion on original content in 2016.  That’s putting its money where its mouth is.  It also puts it in the big league with the Top 5 TV networks, which typically spend in that neighborhood of money as well each year.  The real difference being: that the Top 5 have to fill timeslots for 5 to 6 nights a week in order to make their money.  But Netflix doesn’t care about timeslots or even nightly programming.  Netflix only cares that it has content to keep its subscribers happy and can attract new subscribers.  Netflix viewers do not just use their multiple “screens” for viewing weeknights from the hours of 8-10 pm.  Netflix knows that viewers watch every spare moment they can — which could be mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekends or whenever.  With 70 million subscribers across the globe, of which 43 million are in the United States, Netflix just wants to keep its viewers happy.  Unlike a TV network, viewers have to choose to pay for Netflix each month rather than just change the channel — though one could argue that more viewers are not simply turning the channel anymore and are instead just cutting-the-cord and getting rid of their cable TV providers in favor of watching content strictly online.

For Netflix, it does not care if one series only attracts 500,000 views and another attracts 5 million views, so long as those viewers are paying for Netflix each month. Netflix has equalized the playing field for original content and TV shows.  In broadcast television, if a show was only watched by 500,000 people, it would be cancelled.  But in the Netflix world, that show is just as desirable to keep in its roster as it is part of what draws viewers to Netflix and keeps them there subscribing month-after-month.  Maybe viewers have not yet discovered shows on Netflix yet, but they could in the future.  Measuring viewership within a specific time period, like a week or a month or even a year, is not determinative of a show’s success.  For example, maybe in Year One, only 500,000 people watch a show, but by Year Five, over 20 million people may have watched it.  Even traditional network television has found out that it takes time for a TV show to break-out and get discovered and appreciated by an audience.  (One could ask: would AMC’s drama BREAKING BAD have ever broken out if not for being widely-discovered and binge-watched on Netflix?)

Unfortunately, time is not a luxury that network/broadcast television has.  Network television is selling “eyeballs” and weekly viewership to advertisers.  The good news for Netflix is that they do not sell “eyeballs” to advertisers.  In fact, Netflix is advertising-free. It is one of the reasons that people are rushing to subscribe to Netflix — they are fleeing from all those ads and commercials that disrupt their viewing experience.

Netflix’s rapid growth is actually a bigger threat to advertisers since viewers and consumers are spending more of their free-time in the Netflix universe without ads or commercials.  Imagine a world where one can watch TV shows without ads. Netflix’s skyrocketing popularity should be sending shockwaves through the advertising industry. It is conceivable that within a few years, particularly as tweens/teens turn into young adults and are used to a Netflix-world where there are no advertisements, the question will become:  how do advertisers and businesses with products to sell reach new consumers?  Especially the teens and 20-somethings who have not yet become entrenched in their buying habits.  In fact, more and more people are turning to Netflix to tune out the non-stop barrage of advertisements and commercials on streamed internet TV-sites and traditional television.  The over-saturation of advertising has made viewers and consumers immune to most ads, but that does not mean they are not annoyed by them.  Viewers may just fast-forward through ad and zone-out most commercials, but it is an annoyance to have one’s precious time consumed by having to deal with commercials in the first place, and that is what viewers are seeking refuge from on Netflix.

One of the most common things I hear in the modern TV world is:  “Is it on Netflix?” And when you say, “No.” The response is:  “Oh, then I’ll wait to watch it when it’s on Netflix.”  That’s right.  Viewers like the convenience, accessibility and ease of Netflix.  It is easier than worrying that your DVR is full and cannot fit one more TV show on it when it is maxed to capacity, or cannot record more than 2 shows at once in the same timeslot due to recording limitations, or even worrying that the episode will be cut off because it ran over 30-60 seconds.  On Netflix, when you are watching a TV show, it is stress-free.  For a relatively small subscriber fee each month, Netflix delivers what viewers want — and it is a lot cheaper than cable or subscribing to other providers on-demand plans online.  It is a business model that networks and content providers should have embraced a long time ago.  It is just Netflix’s gain and their loss that they did not.

So Netflix can afford to be proud of their rich roster of creative, original content.  It can also boast that does not care about ratings.  Netflix has done what no other TV show provider could do in the past 2 years: it tripled its viewership.  While the Top 5 networks have lost viewers, Netflix gained — and gained significantly.  Netflix can laugh, it can boast, and it can happily order new series for some time to come.  Netflix is winning.

In its barrage of announcements, here are a few that stood out:

LOVE, produced by Judd Apatow, premieres on February 19th.
FULLER HOUSE reboot premieres February 26th.
HOUSE OF CARDS returns for Season 4 on March 4th.
FLAKED, starring Will Arnett, premieres March 11th.
DAREDEVIL returns for Season 2 on March 18th.
THE RANCH, starring Ashton Kutcher, premieres April 1st.
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT returns for Season 2 on April 15th.
MARSEILLE, starring Gerard Depardieu, premieres May 5th.
GRACE AND FRANKIE returns for Season 2 on May 6th.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK returns for Season 4 on June 17th.
STRANGER THINGS, starring Winona Ryder, premieres July 15th.
THE GET DOWN, produced by Baz Luhrmann about 1970’s disco and hip-hop scene, premieres August 12th, though it should be noted that the first season will be split in 2 parts.

No dates have been scheduled yet for:
– JESSICA JONES Season 2
– LUKE CAGE Season 1
– BETWEEN Season 2
– SENSE8 Season 2
– BLOODLINE Season 2
– NARCOS Season 2
– MARCO POLO Season 2
– LONGMIRE Season 5

Other tidbits gleaned from the presentation:
– No new Marvel series are in development, just the five originally announced: DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES, LUKE CAGE, DEFENDERS, IRON FIST —  though there are talks of a possible PUNISHER spin-off from DAREDEVIL.
–  Netflix “still buttoning down things” before announcing plans for the GILMORE GIRLS reboot.

MASTER OF NONE

While confident that Netflix will be ordering a second season of MASTER OF NONE, creator and star Aziz Ansari is not certain when a second season would be ready as he needs some breathing room to write it first.  He also said that much of the first season was very personal for him and he is not yet sure if the second season would be as personal-based or if the show would go in another direction.  He has a lot of ideas, regardless.  Mostly, what Aziz is happy about is that Netflix let him cast his dad on the show, who had no prior acting experience.  That was a big thrill for him.  Aziz Ansari emphasized that while Netflix has not officially picked up MASTER OF NONE for a second season yet, everyone on the show is hopeful and ready to return when it is.

LOVE

The new Judd Apatow series LOVE, starring Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust, is about the difficulties of searching for love in today’s jaded world.  Judd Apatow freely admitted he borrowed ideas from the films “Trainwreck” and “The Break-Up” in creating LOVE.  He likens the series as a long movie, where the breaks between episodes are but a momentary pause.   He just loved the fact that gave him more creative freedom, which allowed the length of each episode to vary from 22 minutes to 40 minutes.  He also appreciates that, unlike the traditional TV networks, that streaming services want to try things that have not been done before.  LOVE premieres February 19th on Netflix.

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

Still ranked as the top performer on Netflix, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK continues to tell the stories of women in prison through their own colorful lens.  As to the concerns about the show coloring Piper in a darker-light, creator and executive producer Jenji Kohan reassured: “I think Piper’s definitely on a journey . . .and we work through the vicissitudes of likability.”  Star Dascha Polanco described Season 4 will “really push the envelope to the next level” and co-star Samira Wiley said that Season 4 is different from what they have put out before. While not able to provide any specifics about the upcoming season, the cast is clearly excited for it to be released and to gauge the reactions of the show’s devoted fan based.  ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK returns for Season 4 on June 17th on Netflix.

JESSICA JONES

Because JESSICA JONES found out about the Season 2 renewal at the same time everyone else did, it is hard to say who the next big villain may be or what characters will return or be introduced.  So the show has had no opportunity to flesh out what is next for the show in Season 2 for all the characters and their story arcs.  Despite the fan outcry over the untimely demise of Kilgrave, executive producer Melissa Rosenberg said although she would have loved to keep David Tennant around forever that, unfortunately, JESSICA JONES is not the Kilgrave show.  Star Krysten Ritter did note that Kilgrave was the reason why she got up every day and that in the Season 1 finale, “that victorious triumphant moment was very conflicting in terms of Jessica’s headspace” because hating him and tracking Kilgrave had given Jessica Jones a very specific purpose.  Krysten also noted: “I don’t think the past trauma goes away with his death.”  Co-executive producer Jeph Loeb added:  “Your protagonist is often defined on how strong your antagonist is.”  Thus, it will be a test of the show to find another villain able to go toe-to-toe with Jessica.  So while Marvel’s JESSICA JONES has been renewed for Season 2 for 13 new episodes, but they gave no specifics on when JESSICA JONES Season 2 will premiere. The timing may depend on when Netflix premiers LUKE CAGE and DEFENDERS. (Observation:  The show had better bring back the character of Will Simpson, as portrayed by Wil Traval.  Will Simpson’s fate was very much a mystery at the end of Season 1 and I know I am dying to know what happened to him!)

DAREDEVIL

After the overwhelming reception and success of Season 1, executive producer Marco Ramirez said: “We had no pressure to re-invent the wheel.” So everything you loved about Season 1 is simply amplified in Season 2. Star Charlie Cox said he was impressed how scripts have maintained the tone and character while also evolving the story.  As announced and previewed, Season 2 introduces Frank Castle aka The Punisher, as portrayed by Jon Bernthal, and Marco Ramirez said initially there is an “enormous moral chasm” between Matt Murdock and Frank Castle.  Now that the public has embraces Daredevil for his vigilantism, The Punisher rises to also stake a claim in the vigilante business and Season 2 will lean heavily into: what does each character believe a hero is — and The Punisher makes Daredevil question his own methods and what he does. It brings about an internal struggle for Daredevil.  In looking at his character, Jon Bernthal said:  “The Punisher’s superpower is his rage and that he’s not going to quit — that he’s going to keep going, no matter what.”  As for Foggy and Karen, co-stars Elden Hanson and Deborah Ann Woll said their characters will be trying to figure out how their own moral code fits into what Matt is doing — though Deborah Ann Woll noted:  “Daredevil takes on the things we’re most afraid of, and makes it good.”  That may make all the difference in swaying Karen and Foggy to Matt’s particular vision of justice.  As for the other other previewed character introduction, newcomer Elodie Yung said:  “Elektra’s kind of a sociopath —  the world is a game for her — a chess game.”  Just where does Elektra and the Punisher fit into Matt Murdock’s world, if at all, that remains to be seen.  As to the possible spin-offs for the Punisher and Elektra, the producers deferred those questions to Netflix and Marvel.  (Observation:  The first couple episodes of Season 2 of DAREDEVIL are all the things fans will love — tremendous action, scary moments, sweet scenes, and great human connection in the midst of it all.  Fans are going to be pleased and cheering for more.) DAREDEVIL Season 2 premieres March 18th on Netflix.

That’s a wrap on the network and studio presentations from Day 13 of the Winter 2016 Television Critics Association Tour.  As a reminder: be sure to mark your calendars for the upcoming new series and specials as you do not want to miss out on the next great TV show that everyone will be talking about!

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