Netflix’s plan to take over your spare time

We’ve been in what FX President John Landgraf coined “Peak TV”—when there’s too much television out there for any one person to keep up with—for a couple of years now. But if Netflix has any say, there will never be enough TV.

That was the theme of Netflix’s livestreamed event Wednesday at the Hudson Mercantile in New York, which held a series of discussions about what happens when you let creative minds work without restriction, and make inclusive shows. Meanwhile Netflix released and announced trailers, season pickups, casting announcements, and photos for 20 different shows throughout the day.

It was only five years ago this week that Netflix released its first original series, Lilyhammer, to its streaming service. Now Netflix releases its own shows, movies, documentaries, and comedy specials weekly and it has pledged to deliver more than 1,000 hours for its millions of members in 2017—up from 600 hours last year.

It’s enough to overwhelm even the biggest TV buffs who already follow television news more than the average viewer. And this is something Netflix knows fully well.

“I don’t know if you guys know this about television,” Bill Nye said jokingly, as he compared the selection of television to books in a library in that you won’t ever read them all. “You can turn it off.”

Jokes aside, it’s something Netflix has begun to take into account as it gears users’ accounts to show them what they might enjoy, breaking it into four categories based on the intent of watching something. Some shows will be mindless background fodder while others might pick your brain, or be intended to watch with others. Or maybe you need something to escape.

“By the time they get to Netflix, we don’t want them to have to look through thousands of pieces of content and make a hard decision,” Netflix VP of Product Todd Yellin explained. “We know the typical Netflix user is only going to look through 40 or 50 titles.”

Yellin cites 3%, Netflix’s original dystopian drama, as proof that suggesting titles based on those intents, or “tastes,” is a success. The show airs in Portuguese but it managed to captivate an audience in the U.S.

Netflix doesn’t necessarily want to cater to a broad audience with a single show—it wants to spread out making a wide range of programming that will satisfy everyone. As Yellin explained, Netflix only has a couple seconds to catch someone’s eye with a show’s title.

It’s a model that many of the creators who participated in panels at the Netflix livestream event also praised, having already worked in it. Charlize Theron, when trying to sell Girlboss as a television series, knew she had to go to Netflix. Multiple creators spoke highly of the creative freedom they had, compared to working on other projects.

“With Dear White People, I really wanted to go much further than the movie went,” Justin Simien said of his TV series, an extension of the film by the same name, which will debut on Netflix in April. “And I wanted to not only be ambitious about the kinds of stories we were telling but the way we were telling them.”

The producers, directors, writers, and actors were able to tell unique stories without having to worry about network feedback such as making a man more prominent, or reducing female or minority characters to tired stereotypes. Orange Is the New Black actress Danielle Brooks noted how unique it was for a television series to have multiple black and Latina actresses who were series regulars, and who all had unique stories to tell. They also stressed the importance of being inclusive, even when it comes to designing the puppets who co-star in Julie Andrews’ children’s show, Julie’s Greenroom.

“I feel like people [executives] say, ‘We know what sells. We know how to make money. This formula works,’” she said. “But Netflix… they are showing you that there’s other avenues. There are other stories that people want to know and hear and see.”

And some of those shows could be a potential lifeline for its viewers.

“I was going through a really difficult time when they started production,” Selena Gomez, executive producer on gritty teen drama 13 Reasons Why, said of how the show resonates with her own experience. “I went away for 90 days and talked with a lot of kids. It definitely hit home, a very important part of me. Kids have to see something that’s frightening, I want them to understand I definitely relate to everything. I was a mess.”

Netflix has an ambitious task on its hands as it leads the pack in streaming content; Amazon and Hulu both have promising lineups in the coming months, too. But despite what Yellin says, there are hundreds of television shows to choose from on Netflix alone. At least on that front, making choices should get a lot easier.

Michelle Jaworski

Michelle Jaworski

Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and the resident Game of Thrones expert at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has brought her knowledge to conventions like Con of Thrones. She is based in New Jersey.