Pop Culture


So, @rsharp’s latest project on the relationship between niche entertainment and streaming services brought up something related to the increasing promotion of personalized entertainment: Netflix’s larger shift from movies to TV series, and (in particular) to in-house production and/or exclusive distribution deals on them.

I strongly suspect that this is motivated by it being easier to negotiate the rights to series vs. movies, particularly first-run movies, which had a pre-existing system of redistribution to art-houses and broadcast TV networks long before Netflix existed, whereas TV shows were re-run less commonly, and then often simply on a weird time slot for the network that already owned the rights. When they were licensed, it was usually to cable channels that were seen (in the 1980s and 1990s) as not quite directly competing with, say CBS or ABC. My guess is that Netflix’s series contracts evolved from those kind of deals.

Thus, it is the second chart, on movie v. series in 2012 that actually interests me more, since that is a snapshot of a clear change in Netflix’s strategy during the time that their first in-house series, House of Cards, was in production. That is to say, the decision in favor of vertical integration was clearly part of a larger shift towards a more series-heavy library.


I suspect you’re right, that the main driver here was the economics of acquisition instead of a shift in taste. Also, it seems that we are aware of the shift. A quick search for “tv vs movies” turned up a trove of “TV is Better” style headlines from recent years. The Guardian tried to explain it waaaaay back in 2013 with this piece: 10 Reasons Why Today’s TV is Better than Movies, that appears under a picture of Frank and Claire Underwood.

The argument for TV pretty much makes itself: House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, The Wire, Downton Abbey, Top Gear, Doctor Who, Orange is the New Black. Let’s compare that to the list of the top films of 2013: 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Short Term 12, Mud, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle. The list of films starts strong, but those series are part of your life in a way that the films are not (and it’s not the format’s fault: it’s hard to refuse The Godfather and its impact).

It’s a little interesting in the context to the niche to divide the factors into two camps: business and pleasure. Which reasons are driven by the economics of TV and film, and which are driven by the requirement that content serve at the pleasure of the viewer? In addition to splitting them up, the rank of each item from the article appears in parentheses.


  • TV is (currently) less franchise-fixated (2) – one might argue that this is still true only because both have gone off the deep end together
  • TV still has the power to surprise (3)
  • the biggest film stars of tomorrow are on TV now (9) – at the time it was written it might have been a tad early to call this for Idris Elba or Benedict Cumberbatch, but no longer
  • TV made Netflix successful (10) – chicken, egg, does it matter?


  • long form storytelling (1)
  • word of mouth (4) – Looks like there’s nothing new under the sun, and this is an earlier take on our niche argument
  • actors do their best work on TV (5) – and this beefs up the argument: a feedback loop where quality begets quality
  • the British excel at TV (6)
  • British actors have ruled US TV for years (7)
  • the bond with characters (8)
  • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Rich Sharp.

Not sure I necessarily agree with 5. I’m sure that there are a fair number of actors who don’t @rsharp.

The start of the “has TV gotten better than movies” predates Netflix by a bit, actually, but also predicts it in that it relied on the creative freedom of getting away from network broadcast TV and its restrictions on the seedier aspects of life. Basically, most people have (probably correctly) credited the kickoff of the Small Screen Era to HBO and The Sopranos. You left out another major HBO series in your above list, as well, with Game of Thrones, which has most certainly enhanced the public profile of Peter Dinklage, though many of the actors on it have done well afterwards (or beforehand, or both).

Viewing 3 posts - 1 through 3 (of 3 total)

You must be logged in to join this conversation. Login below or create a new account.