In the U.S., most consumers agree that Netflix is pretty great.
What’s not to like, after all? The Los Gatos, California-based streaming movie and TV provider gives subscribers access to media virtually (no pun intended) whenever and however — be it on their television set, computer or mobile device — they want it, and it has inexorably changed the game in the retail entertainment industry.
The feat is particularly impressive when considering that the company was nearly dead in the water as recently as 2011.
The Qwikster miscalculation now seems a distant memory, however, and Netflix — bolstered by an ever-expanding slate of largely well-received original content and reaching north of 44 million subscribers in the United States — has recently turned its focus to global expansion, in January, announcing plans to expand its service coverage from 60 countries to more than 130.
While one might assume that this significant new international audience is excited to (with apologies for referencing that horrible, tiresome meme that won’t die) “Netflix and chill” — and, by most accounts, it is — the generally positive expectations held by consumers are unwittingly at odds with underlying economic and social realities that exist in some local economies outside the U.S.
In effect, while the arrival of Netflix appears to be a good thing in the short term for citizen viewers in those regions, the streaming service could actually be bad for local business in the long run.
Not long after Netflix made its expansion announcement, a story on NPR (which also could not resist using the word “chill” in the title) took a look at the potential negative effects of the platform’s entry into Kenya. In addition to concerns over content appropriateness and the potential brain-melting effects of binge watching — which are common in most regions, including the U.S. — an issue unique to that country (and other developing nations like it) is that Netflix, with its catalog of American-derived content that everyone knows and loves (Pee-Wee Herman returns today!) and American infrastructure and tech behind it, could hinder the local entertainment industry that is still developing.
In a recent op-ed for TechCrunch, Spencer Lazar, a principal for General Catalyst, weighs the pros and cons for a country like Kenya to welcome Netflix into its local culture and economy. On one hand, the case can be made that the general quality of the streaming service’s offerings is beneficial for any region that had previously lacked access to it in that it can provide positivity and inspiration for consumers in all walks of life (in more substantial ways, one presumes, than their ability to weigh in on the viability of Kevin Spacey’s Southern accent).
On the other hand, Lazar does acknowledge that the Netflix consumers in developing countries who are in the best position to most immediately monetize that inspiration — upstart film and television professionals — have the odds stacked against them by the very presence of Netflix, with whose infrastructure they cannot compete. And the negative impact on their burgeoning industry could have a ripple effect on the country’s overall economic prospects.
Lazar ultimately falls on the pro-Netflix side of the argument, taking the hopeful position that, if the platform is permitted to be absorbed by consumers in developing regions like Kenya, the company may ultimately be more financially motivated to put assets towards working with those very countries to help the local creative professionals eventually tell their own stories with it.
That idealistic viewpoint, while it does posit an end result that is beneficial for both America’s economy (as it pertains to the domestic film and television industry channeling its output through Netflix) and that of developing regions, is very much an uncertainty at this early stage of Netflix’s global expansion.
Perhaps we can mull it over while we’re binge-watching season two of “Daredevil” this weekend.