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Now in Netflix News: The New Streaming Reality

0329 netflix
And now some recent headlines from the world of entertainment: “Netflix nears over $100 million deal with Miramax” (Reuters, March 26); “Starz to delay new series on Netflix streaming, movies may follow” (Los Angeles Times, March 24); “Showtime to pull current shows off Netflix” (Deadline, March 22); “Netflix makes it official: We’re in the TV game with ‘House of Cards’ ” (The Wrap, March 18); “Sarandos: Netflix doesn’t devalue content” (Variety, March 10).

So what can we learn from reading all that stuff between the quotation marks, semicolons, and parentheses? Two things. First, headline writing is a dead art form—gone, sadly, are the days of great works such as “Headless Body in Topless Bar” and “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Sigh. Second, Netflix is everywhere. Let’s discuss that second thing for a moment.

New news regarding everybody’s favorite (and only) reason for owning a Roku has flowed through the Internet almost daily since the streaming-video service (yes, they still do the DVD-by-mail thing, too—for now) announced two weeks ago that it had won a bidding war for “House of Cards,” a TV drama pilot from creators Kevin Spacey (best known for “K-PAX”) and David Fincher (best known for the Paula Abdul videos “Straight Up” and “Forever Your Girl”). In beating out fellow suitors HBO and AMC, Netflix changed its business model, becoming a distributor of original content instead of just a purveyor of leftovers. The TV networks and film studios whose work makes up the entire non–”House of Cards” portion of Netflix’s catalogue responded as they would to a competitor. Showtime and Starz imposed new restrictions on which of its shows Netflix can access and when. And as NPR’s Laura Sydell reported Sunday, the studios are preparing to demand that Netflix begin paying more for the rights to their material.

All of which means that Netflix is now an official player—that’s what happens when you grab two weeks of continuous media attention and prompt the industry powers to take aim at you—and actors need to pay attention to it. If Netflix turns into a new HBO, it would mean that the new-media future has arrived and TV especially is about to go the way of dodo birds and DVDs. Meanwhile, questions still surround most forms of new-media distribution. Entertainment lawyer–turned–labor reporter Jonathan Handel told Back Stage last year that it is unclear how a residual from Netflix is even calculated. And the Screen Actors Guild’s own deputy national executive director for contracts, Ray Rodriguez, admitted back at the beginning of the month, when Universal signed an agreement with online startup AnyClip, that the unions’ new-media agreement is “extremely complex and very new.”

Netflix, of course, is pretty new too, and it’s becoming more complex by the day. Best to start figuring out how to deal with that complexity now.

Photo: Marit and Toomas Hinnosaar

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