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Summary:

The generation that’s grown up with free content on the internet is also used to having television when they want it, wherever they want it — a premise that Netflix seems to understand best. Here’s why.

Orange Is The New Black Netflix TV

The first time I heard about the show Orange is the New Black, I honestly thought it was a fake-terrible television show that Jack Donaghy was pitching to Cabletown executives as part of the plot on 30 Rock.

The reason for my confusion is that when I saw a trailer for the show that came on when 30 Rock had ended, I was only half-watching the screen. I was lying on my stomach with my laptop open next to me, playing 30 Rock on Netflix (through an account I share with my parents and sister) while checking Twitter on my phone, texting a few different friends, and eating a bowl of cereal.

How did I discover that Orange is the New Black is actually a real original show that Netflix rolled out last month? Only when I saw a Buzzfeed article about it on Facebook, when a few people at work mentioned it on Twitter, and when my sister texted me to ask if I’d watched it yet. This weekend, I finally opened up my laptop to watch it. And when I did, I watched five episodes in a single sitting.

I’m the type of person who keeps cable executives up at night. I have never owned a physical television, I wouldn’t think of paying for cable, and I rarely even pay for what I watch on the internet. (And when I do tune in, I’m distracted enough to confuse a trailer with actual programming.)

But my viewing habits aren’t all that unusual among my generation. And the way we discover and watch TV isn’t changing anytime soon. Earlier this year I wrote about the economics of my generation’s viewing and reading habits, and what it means for content companies when a group of people who grew up on free news, music and movies become adult consumers.

Plenty of readers criticized us for being a bunch of free-loaders, which they’re totally entitled to think, since few of my friends have any interest in paying for access to The New York Times or The New Yorker.

But the one service that everyone said they would pay for? Netflix. I’m currently using my parents subscription, but if they ever rescinded that generosity or stopped subscribing, I’d happily pay up. And the reason I suspect that my friends and I are willing to fork over for Netflix is that, in general, it feels like the company understands how we want to watch TV.

Almost all of my friends all tuned in for Arrested Development, House of Cards, and now Orange Is the New Black. Part of the reason was that all of that original content was basically good, with high-quality actors and production values. (I know Amazon Prime has original content, but I’ve never met anyone who has watched it.)

But there’s more to it than just good programming. Once you’ve paid your monthly Netflix bill (or borrowed someone’s login), the content at least feels free. Hitting “next episode” doesn’t feel like making a purchase the way it does on iTunes, even if it ultimately costs you more than it would to buy a few episodes each month.

You can sit down and watch an episode a week if you want, or more likely, you can binge on five or six episodes at a time to catch up with your friends and participate in the conversations on text and Twitter.

The key is, it’s available whenever you want it, on whatever device you want to watch on. TV Everywhere has become a mantra for executives in the industry to preach, but in reality few companies deliver on the promise. Netflix, more so than most other companies, gives consumers a healthy taste of what that Nirvana could be like.

Contrast Orange is the New Black with Mad Men, which airs Sunday night but isn’t available for purchase on iTunes until Monday morning — at which point, an entire work day has passed where Twitter or co-workers could spoil the plot for you. Does it make my friends more likely to pay for cable so they can watch Sunday night? Unfortunately, no — at least anecdotally, people seem more likely to download it illegally on Sunday night (they’d pay if it were available), than wait to watch until Monday night to buy it on iTunes and have a lesser experience. Because as I’ve written before, if you want to get the Twitter jokes, you need to watch when everyone else is watching too.

I don’t think that illegally downloading content or borrowing logins from friends and parents are attractive traits of my generation. And, of course, AMC has a different economic structure than Netflix — it relies on TV sponsors for revenue and likely won’t change its programming windowing any time soon.

But Netflix’s success at hooking us on its original programming should remind networks like AMC that we are willing to pay for content — assuming the network then provides the content in a way we want to consume it.

And with Orange Is the New Black, I realized these feelings aren’t limited to millennials when my Mom texted me to say that she and my dad had started watching the show on their Roku. I should really check it out, she saId.

To read previous Digital Life columns, click here.

  1. foshizzlesandgiggles Thursday, August 1, 2013

    People are tired of being told what they can watch. For a long time, I have preferred to watch episodes consecutively rather than by installments. Networks get it wrong so often, which is why all the cable shows are getting all the great reviews. What I like about Orange is that it’s allows women characters to have actual bodily functions that we aren’t supposed to have in real life, and that picture of that pussy being floated around the prison looks like something out of Hustler. It never fails to gross me out and I also love that it grosses me out and that I can still enjoy the show immensely.

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  2. I loved…….it kept me watching …all 13 episodes in just 12 hours…..the craziness that can happen behind bars is worthy of this series and letting people see the feelings/fears behind the scene of visitations….makes each character more real…..And I truly hope three of the staff/correction officers/wardens get caught…because I am sure that in real life they dont

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  3. Jeremy Toeman Friday, August 2, 2013

    I appreciate the perspective you have on this, but can’t help but feel how skewed you are to your own subset of millenials.

    What about sports?
    What happens when millenials get older and don’t want to work so hard to find a show?
    What about the reality check that the average american household watches 4.45 hours of TV per DAY?

    I’m sure this article applies to a large chunk of millenials in certain parts of the country (NY, SF, etc) but I think it’s a massively large generalization that I don’t believe applies to the masses.

    Don’t believe me? You wrote “Almost all of my friends all tuned in for Arrested Development, House of Cards, and now Orange Is the New Black.” – I love these shows too, but compare their audience size to things like Big Bang Theory, NCIS, The Voice, Survivor, etc and you’ll see how we are not representative, AT ALL, of the large audience of TV watchers. http://www.deadline.com/2013/05/tv-season-series-rankings-2013-full-list/ (incidentally, that’s not the “best” list possible, as it doesn’t include everything out there, but it’s pretty close)

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    1. Thanks for your comment! Those are great points. Sports is definitely still tricky to watch, and it seems like one of the last reasons to subscribe to cable. Certainly not everyone is embracing cord-cutting and we haven’t hit a majority yet, but the numbers are much, much higher among my generation, and they’re growing (even among my friends who don’t live in SF or NYC). My colleague Janko wrote a post yesterday about cord-cutting numbers in the US: 70 percent of all broadband users under 35 get some of their TV online, and 13 percent of that demographic stream all of their TV (http://gigaom.com/2013/08/01/five-percent-cord-cutters/). So even if they’re not huge numbers yet, my point is that I think if companies like Netflix continue making it easier for us to watch whenever and wherever we want, those numbers will keep going up.

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      1. Sports is exactly the same – and cable companies don’t get that either.

        The only reason I watch NHL is because they have NHL game-centre.

        Every year, I pay $50 and get to watch games via the internet “live” when available and if i miss it, no worries Its sitting there ready to watch WHENEVER i feel like it. (I can even watch historical games if i was inclined).

        The quality of streaming is still not perfect (and I wish they had GoogleTV apps) but its improved substantially over the past few years.

        I can also get sport for free (Russian Mirror Spam sites which route it), but I happily pay for simplicity, freedom and choice.

        Did you see the “Take My Money HBO” campaign? People will pay.

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  4. You make some good points but it would be helpful if you backed it up with some real information. Do people actually watching TV like you, or are you completely speaking for yourself? How does Netflix growth look? How does the actual Netflix original content impact the social media channels that seem to engage you to watch that content? Should I buy some Netflix stock because you and your friends won’t pay for NYT or New Yorker? Does GigaOm not pay you enough?

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    1. Thanks for your comment! We write about the economics and growth of Netflix and cord-cutting a good deal, so I wanted to bring the younger generation’s perspective to this particular post. I don’t claim to speak for everyone under 35, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that my generation is more likely to watch television if we can get it on more devices at more flexible times and price points. Particularly since we’ve grown up with these options in addition to traditional TV. For example, my coworker Janko wrote a post yesterday on the latest cord-cutting numbers in the US, which found that 70 percent of all broadband users under 35 get some of their TV online, and 13 percent of that demographic stream all of their TV. These numbers were higher than they were for the population as a whole: http://gigaom.com/2013/08/01/five-percent-cord-cutters/.

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  5. I’m about to turn 40, am married and have two kids. We cut the cord 4 years ago. We now get TV from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime for a fraction of the cost, few or no commercials (which is a big plus with kids in the house), better control over content, access to entire seasons or series so I don’t have to wait for the next episode, and less mindless channel surfing.

    It is true that the main missing element is sports. We tried MLB online, but that really only works if you live outside of the home market of your favorite team. We live in Phoenix, so we couldn’t watch the Diamondbacks play.

    Decoupling sports (which are regulated monopolies) from their cable/satellite contracts and making their broadcast content available for purchase like an episode of Burn Notice is something that needs to happen!

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  6. “But my viewing habits aren’t all that unusual among my generation” – are you able to actually support that statement or was it shorthand for “my viewing habits aren’t all that unusual among my group of (urban, professional, media/internet business, college educated, unmarried, childless) friends?

    Live network TV still seems to really resonate with lots of millennials – Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, Jersey Shore, etc. And then there’s sports, something even millennials have to watch via a pay TV subscription.

    Orange Is The New Black is the TV equivalent of an indie movie – it’s going after a niche audience, is not looking to pull in advertising and has different economics than a network TV show. The two questions to ask in determining whether it was a win for Netflix are “Did it draw in any new subscribers? and “Did it help Netflix retain current subscribers?” – that’s how they make their money. My understanding is they have not yet released those numbers.

    Netflix is an excellent service for all the reasons you aptly describe. But I’d suggest that its appeal right now is more to an early adopter crowd than to any specific generation.

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  7. “But my viewing habits aren’t all that unusual among my generation” – are you able to actually support that statement or was it shorthand for “my viewing habits aren’t all that unusual among my group of (urban, professional, media/internet business, college educated, unmarried, childless) friends?

    Live network TV still seems to really resonate with lots of millennials – Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, Jersey Shore, etc. And then there’s sports, something even millennials have to watch via a pay TV subscription.

    Orange Is The New Black is the TV equivalent of an indie movie – it’s going after a niche audience, is not looking to pull in advertising and has different economics than a network TV show. The two questions to ask in determining whether it was a win for Netflix are “Did it draw in any new subscribers? and “Did it help Netflix retain current subscribers?” – that’s how they make their money. My understanding is they have not yet released those numbers.

    Netflix is an excellent service for all the reasons you aptly describe. But I’d suggest that its appeal right now is more to an early adopter crowd than to any specific generation.

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    1. Sure, I’m not saying that Orange Is The New Black is sweeping the country, and absolute cord-cutting numbers are still small. But they’re higher among my generation than older ones, and I think the experience of watching on Netflix is something that resonates with a crowd that grew up with free content online.

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  8. Although I agree with Jeremy and Alan that it’s hard to generalize a shift in viewing behavior for a whole generation or country (You don’t see a lot of research on viewing behavior in Europe except for the growth in ‘online video consumption’), I do think that many of the younger generation wonder why TV and the TV experience isn’t more like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu or other apps. The top U.S. Online Video Content Properties are reaching almost 60% of the US population and 85.2 percent of the U.S. Internet audience viewed online video. (http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Press_Releases/2013/7/comScore_Releases_June_2013_U.S._Online_Video_Rankings)

    In the past online video might have copied from TV to understand what works and how video is consumed, but nowadays the online video experience in discovering new content, watching on-demand video, and offering an unscheduled experience is far better than what cable provider or broadcaster are offering.

    I agree that Netflix is not taking over traditional channels and that subscription TV isn’t going anywhere, but only for the content and not the experience. As Eliza comments ‘it’s not unreasonable to say that my generation is more likely to watch television if we can get it on more devices at more flexible times and price points’.

    And to comment on Jeremy’s argument ‘What happens when millenials get older and don’t want to work so hard to find a show?’, isn’t that what NextGuide will solve?

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  9. Love the Netflix, son had to show me how to get on line to view.
    Watched excellent first show “Orange is The New Black. Looking forward to second season.
    I know most of the cast, but who is the Meth head that is always with Pennsatucky and Leann. She is Blond and wears ponytail on side of head?

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