After refusing to enter into any sort of pay TV deal for the last decade and more, I’ve finally succumbed and signed up to Netflix. It wasn’t so much for my benefit as I just don’t watch a lot of TV at the best of times, though I guess I’ll get something out of it as well, but it was more to relieve my wife from the hell that’s become free to air TV. There’s hardly anything to watch on TV and when something does come up, it’s so rife with ads that it becomes sheer torture putting up with the increasingly stultifying ads thrust onto the viewers. If it’s not the 100th time for crappy knives, bamboo pillows, ladders, wrenches, funeral insurance or another charity and the like, it’s just more ads telling you what’s coming up in the next day or week (and that’s just in one day). The basic fact is that TV stations really have little to broadcast nowadays and so fill in interminable hours of emptiness with ads. And this seems much worse with our satellite TV that is from northern Australia.
One reason why I was avoiding pay TV like the plague was the fact that prior to semi-retiring, I was constantly flying between cities and staying in motels, which gave me a good insight into what was then the only pay TV service around, Foxtel. I could never actually watch anything that I wanted as the programs were always on at the wrong time, such that I could never see the beginning or end of a program, or the program at all. But what I did watch of an evening was utterly filled with ads, not product ads, but ads telling you what was coming up. These ads took up more time than any of the programs and interrupted programs constantly, such that watching became unbearable. That spurred me to avoid pay TV like the plague and nothing would get me to sign up to that garbage, even though I kept getting offers all the time. If I was prepared to pay for TV, I certainly didn’t want ads destroying any viewing pleasure that may have existed.
But things changed with the arrival of Netflix and the whole nature of pay TV, if you can call it that anymore. It’s a completely different experience; TV with no ads, though I have read that Netflix is toying with self-promotional ads between programs. But the major point is that it’s streaming TV now, whether movies or TV shows, which means that you can watch anything available when you want to watch it and if you happen to leave off anywhere, you can resume watching at any time, even days later from exactly where you left off. You can even save some programs to watch later or to a device if you go away. While I understand that we don’t get everything that US audiences get, the overall selection doesn’t appear too bad for those who are avid TV watchers. I did consider the other options available, but they didn’t seem to offer quite what Netflix did. Foxtel was still stupidly expensive for what you get and usually subscribed to by sports fans, and while Stan was reasonably priced and had a lot of programs, it seemed to rely more on the old stuff. And while Netflix also has a lot of reruns and depends heavily on these, it also commissions many of their own shows and movies, and purchases films from independent producers as well, so there’s a lot of variety.
The big thing also with Netflix is that I could pay via PayPal, which meant that I didn’t have to give my credit card details like the others require. While they all say that the first month is free (they all offered a free month of viewing) and that you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to continue, once they have your credit card details it can be very difficult to stop payments. Going through PayPal means that I have an extra layer of protection should I decide not to continue and have difficulties in cancelling. The weird thing though with signing up is that at first I went through our Telstra TV box (Roku), which allowed you to sign up via the TV, but there was no option for selecting PayPal and it automatically tried to sign you up for the top-tier option. So I cancelled that process and went on my PC, where the sign-up process was completely different. I have to say that the process was still somewhat convoluted and anyone not really computer savvy could make some selections that they didn’t want. I wonder how intentional that is?
Once things were set up, the rest was fairly easy. Netflix offers a number of personalisation choices, which is basically a learning thing so that you get offered programs that Netflix ‘thinks‘ you like. My wife did this, but I opted out. My viewing interests are quite varied and making three selections without knowing how good the genre was or whether I’d enjoy them meant I could be stuck getting programs that I have no interest in viewing. This would be at least until the system hopefully adjusted to what I did watch. YouTube is like this and it’s incredibly frustrating as it ‘thinks‘ it knows what I want to watch and invariably gets it woefully wrong all the time. Just because I clicked on something once out of curiosity doesn’t mean that I want to see everything related to that genre thereafter. It’s especially frustrating when it takes so long to readjust. Having Indian movies recommended for weeks on end becomes very tiring. And as I’ve never watched one single Arianna Grande music video, I still have no idea why these are recommended. The YouTube AI really stands for Artificial Idiot.
Having now had Netflix for about a month, is it worth it? My wife thinks it’s pretty good, allowing her to watch stuff not available anywhere else and I’ve slowly come around to appreciate some of what it has to offer. My views aren’t surprising, as I said from the outset that I’m not a big TV watcher, though I have enjoyed some of the programs available. I’m the sort that doesn’t care much for dramas, mysteries and the like (anything that Rotten Tomatoes gives a high score is usually something I won’t like) and I can’t hold a solid interest in programs that stretch into endless multiple parts. I think I must be one of the rare people, in the western world at least, who has never seen one episode of Game of Thrones (I never bothered to try and download it like many) and given reports of what appears to be the most disappointing ending to the series, I doubt that I’ve missed anything.
There is one thing that has become glaringly obvious after a month of watching Netflix movies and shows, they all seem to be really long. What would normally be a one and a half hour movie on TV is two hours or more on Netflix. It took me a few days before the penny dropped and I realised that it’s because there are no ads and we get to see the full movie. When these movies are shown on TV, at least half an hour is cut from the movie to allow room for ads. You may not notice it while watching, but it’s happening. And when a movie is difficult to cut to such a degree, you’ll find that the movie is suddenly way longer than say two hours, to once again allow for ads. So to be able to watch movies and TV programs without having to put up with endless ads is most certainly worth the price of entry. So for the time being we intend to keep Netflix going, as it’s chalk and cheese compared to the local TV rubbish. The one question I can never find an answer to is , ‘What happened to TV?’. As a kid, we only had four channels to watch, but TV was eminently watchable.