Netflix put-down does arrogant broadcaster no favours

If Netflix is a pet, it will become a beloved member of the family if it continues to produce shows like Stranger Things.
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If Netflix is a pet, it will become a beloved member of the family if it continues to produce shows like Stranger Things.

OPINION: A TVNZ executive's bizarre pot shots against competitor Netflix are as much an insult to consumers as they are to the online entertainment giant.

In the mind of the national broadcaster's deputy director of content Andy Shaw, we have been dazzled by a superficial sparkle that will soon fade out; duped by the gimmickry of quality, ad-free programming.

What's more, we've been foolish enough to want to pay for it and "binge-watch" for hours on end.

TVNZ's deputy director of content Andy Shaw says TV viewers should not get carried away with Netflix's appeal. It's just ...
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TVNZ's deputy director of content Andy Shaw says TV viewers should not get carried away with Netflix's appeal. It's just a fad.

Shaw's claims this week that Netflix was "like a pet that makes people feel warm and fuzzy", only had three good shows and was overhyped, brought instant allusions to an old ostrich with its head in the sand, and triggered a landslide of criticism against the "reality" shows that had become TVNZ's bread and butter.

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It's akin to a fast food restauranteur ranting against the attraction of fine-dining: You know all you really want is a cheeseburger!

It's difficult to establish where the arrogance ends and the delusion begins.

But squabbling over the quality and worthiness of content is beside the point. We all have different tastes, and TVNZ has always been about programming that could draw the largest audience.

It now caters to a wedge of the market that enjoys affordably-produced cooking shows, DIY, social experiments, and long-running, slow-burning soap operas.

But it is just a wedge, and TVNZ and its advertisers can either be comfortable with that, and watch its market share slowly diminish, or it can radically rethink its model – because that's where Netflix has changed the game. It's called audience-focused programming.

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Time is precious. An increasing number of TV viewers would rather pay $12 a month for something they choose to watch, when they want to watch it, than get "whatever is on" for their NZ on Air tax money. It's less a fad, more a user-pays revolution.

Netflix subscribers fund the creation of costly dramatic and sitcom shows that the provider thinks will appeal to viewers – the very type of shows free-to-air TV gave up on years ago, often shunting to 2am or cancelling mid-season without explanation or apology.

Shaw is correct that TV viewers have been bewitched by Netflix's warm, fuzzy allure. A decade of contempt from public broadcasters will do that to you.

"Let's not get carried away," he says.

Sorry Andrew, but we were driven away. Time for you to cue up Goodnight Kiwi.

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 - Stuff

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