The Netflix Funnel

Over the last little while I have found myself increasingly conflicted about streaming video services like Netflix and CraveTV (the two Andrea and I subscribe to). While we still find things to watch, I worry about the way they funnel our viewing habits, maybe in ways we don't always notice or pay attention to.

Consider the dominant streaming video service, Netflix, which now has more subscribers than all cable providers combined. While Netflix has grown more popular, it has diminished its content to the point where it recently hosted only 25 movies made before 1950, as Zach Schonfeld pointed out in Newsweek. “It’s the sort of classics selection you’d expect to find in a decrepit video store in 1993,” Schonfeld wrote, “not on a leading entertainment platform that serves some 100 million global subscribers.”

The above quote comes from this article on Pitchfork making a similar argument about my concerns, but projecting forward streaming music services.  In Canada, I checked using, and found 18 movies before 1950,  almost all of which are documentaries, in turn, almost entirely about WWII. It doesn't get a lot better quickly:

  • 1950-1960: 12
  • 1960-1970: 18
  • 1970-1980: 35
  • 1980-1990: 94
  • 1990-2000: 193
  • 2000-2010: 787
  • 2010-2018: 4369

I totally understand Netflix's position here: They need subscribers to make money, and most people want to watch the newest stuff. I think I find this  fascinating because it's a non-algorithmic example of the ways in which our behaviour is altered by large corporations, and in this case, I can't even really ascribe malevolence. Yet the power wielded by Netflix seems undeniable. I know personally, despite having an interest in watching some old movies, I find its relatively rare for me to go try to find them, because there's always something on Netflix that could be watched. Yet, as the above info shows, it's unlikely what I watch on Netflix will even a decade old.

Maybe the way I handle this is a redoubled love for the public library.  I've been wanting to watch "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" for years (since Eliott Kalan of The Flop House podcast doesn't stop talking about it), so in writing this post I finally put the DVD on hold. Of course, compared to Netflix, one of the downsides to the library is inventory.

All Copies in Use

Then again, perhaps the limited inventory is a good thing, by creating some mindfulness in the consumption. Since I know how in demand this DVD is, when I get it from the library, I will almost certainly watch it while I have it. Whereas, if I found out The Taking of Pelham One Two Three showed up on Netflix, I may dither and dither until it leaves the service and I've missed it.