One of the tricky things about businesses operating mostly online is that it can be hard to get a true sense of their scope. After all, it’s not like these entities are stores that you can go to and see how many people are shopping there. We interact with them in the privacy of our own homes, often submitting passive payments through subscriptions. But then, one day you wake up and discover that Netflix is the biggest website in the known universe.
For proof of Netflix’s dominance, take a look at Sandvine’s 2018 Global Internet Phenomena report, which takes a widescreen look at how exactly we’re spending our time online. It turns out that 58 percent of our downstream traffic — in other words, stuff that we consume online, rather than upload to the internet for consumption — is devoted to streaming video. Netflix is the number-one source of that downstream traffic, accounting for a whopping 15 percent market share of the internet we engage with.
Of course, it’s not like we wouldn’t be couch potatoes without Netflix, as anyone who’s spent hours flipping between basic cable channels assembling their own bespoke SVU and/or Simpsons marathon can attest. But while TV, even cable TV, eventually stops giving you shows actually enjoy, Netflix is explicitly designed to give you what you want, forever, until you’re one of those blob-people in the spaceship from WALL-E Consider this quote from a GQ interview with director Cary Fukunaga, discussing taking feedback from Netflix while making his new show Maniac:
Because Netflix is a data company, they know exactly how their viewers watch things. […] So they can look at something you’re writing and say, We know based on our data that if you do this, we will lose this many viewers. So it’s a different kind of note-giving. It’s not like, Let’s discuss this and maybe I’m gonna win. The algorithm’s argument is gonna win at the end of the day. So the question is do we want to make a creative decision at the risk of losing people.
Netflix is a service that makes money off subscriptions, so in a sense, every original show they commission is itself an advertisement for Netflix. The irony that Maniac, a dystopian science-fiction show whose first episode features Emma Stone’s character buying something by consenting to have an advertisement read to her, was created in a process designed to maximize engagement in what was — again — functionally an advertisement for Netflix is so glaringly obvious that it basically hits you in the face. “I have no doubt the algorithm will be right,” Fukunaga told GQ, blissfully unaware that his adherence to Netflix’s algorithm-derived notes would end up sucking all the life out of his show.
Anyways, it’s pretty nice out this weekend. Maybe, instead of sucking 15 hours of Netflix through your eyeballs and earholes directly into your brain, you should go outside for a while.