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The Commodity Flow of Netflix

The second session on this final day of AoIR 2015 starts with Camille Yale, whose focus is on Netflix. Netflix represents a rearticulation of the commercial media system, rather than a revolution: it has an intense commodity orientation, global ambitions, and oligopolistic practices; it claims for itself that it is democratising entertainment, however.

Such language is driven largely by its Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt. Under him, Netflix has defined its own version of media commercialism, but operates much like a regular media conglomerate: it engages with other streaming companies, commodities audience labour, and replaces overt advertising with covert 'commodity flow'.

This creates interesting juxtapositions. Netflix claims to fight the old, top-down model, but itself is simply the new, top-down model; it is in competition with Amazon but relies on Amazon Web Services; it is dismantling the ad-supported commercial TV system but is reliant upon and reviving the TV system by popularising its content (such as Breaking Bad); it breaks away from the tyranny of TV schedules, but remains beholden to old-fashioned TV content release schedules.

The commodity flow of Netflix transitions from a flow made up of of TV shows and interstitial commercials to a flow composed of large-scale banner ads promoting new material and the library of available content. There is a rhetoric of moving beyond mainstream content and towards independent producers, too, but many of the leading 'independent' sources on Netflix are themselves owned by the majors.

This is highly visible especially on the children's content pages, where there are also significant tie-ins between Netflix content and toy brands. There is also substantial commodity overflow onto social media and related spaces.

This is a collapse of the values of high capitalism into the values of commodity; but corporate transparency does not equate with consumer control. Free choice for consumers here is really only a choice amongst mass consumer goods.