It is no secret that streaming platforms like Netflix have dominated the market for a while now, influencing and actively changing how we consume our media. Netflix became a $125 billion company in about 20 years, making $6.4 billion in the third quarter of 2020 alone. Due to the ongoing pandemic, millions of people across the globe have been locked in their homes since the start of the year and the kind of services that Netflix provides an undoubtedly convenient moment of cinematic escapism. Vast digital libraries consisting of old classics as well as trending original works at a relatively low price sounds like a good deal, right?
For a minimal monthly subscription fee, Netflix continues to diversify its content with unerring accuracy, investing into niche cinematic genres across their exclusive international distribution programming outfit. While the streaming platform continues to team up with smaller publishing houses, offering an insight into its desire to invest in the film industry from the ground up, it does so with a large misstep on the very surface of their output; dismissing the importance of crucial credit.
Admittedly, remaining seated to watch the end credits of a film isn’t the most fashionable of choices but, regardless, it is still a crucially important part of the movie. It is the collective signature of the artists and technicians who have helped make the project possible. Apart from that, the end credits often contain special scenes that enable the viewer to contextualise the events that happened on-screen. However, Netflix has its own auto-preview feature which was introduced in 2017 and automatically plays promotional videos for content that the streaming platform algorithm has automatically picked. There are ways to select the ‘Watch Credits’ option but it is a deliberate decision on Netflix’s part to not make that the default mode. By slapping the viewer with more recommendations as soon the media has stopped playing, streaming platforms ensure that their subscribers spend less time thinking about what you have just seen or if you should leave the platform immediately. Thanks to how technology has evolved, the tendency to keep our eyes glued to these glowing and dynamic suggestions has become a psychological impulse. The algorithm presents, we click. And then we click again.
Netflix’s erasure of the end credits is just one of the symptoms of its primary objectives: to keep the user’s attention focused on the screen. End credits are a necessary buffer between the fantasy of cinema and the reality of the world around us. They help us transition between these two realms by making us process the philosophical and artistic implications of what we have witnessed as the screen stays visually silent for a while, except the gently scrolling text that lulls us into a contemplative examination. It is important that this tradition of self-reflection stays alive because it is the only thing keeping the viewer from devolving into a mindless consumer but that’s the kind of user who is perfect for Netflix’s business model. The erstwhile director of product innovation at Netflix, Stephen Garcia said: “Television has decades’ worth of expectation that when you turn it on, the video and audio play so it’s actually quite strange to have a silent experience.”
Building your platform on the basis of television’s long history of voyeuristic exploitations isn’t, on the face of it, a particularly good idea. That said, Netflix is not just blasting advertisements for other content to drown out your thoughts. It is systematically recording what you are seeing and curating what you are going to see. If an individual keeps consuming entertainment under the ‘Related’ category, how is contemporary art going to do what it is supposed to do: broaden the perspective of a viewer? One’s opinions and sensibilities should be based on a variety of literature and media which we are introduced to from wide-ranging sources. However, Netflix’s algorithms are designed to keep us in the bubbles it creates for us, calling it “user-retention” to make it appear flashy to the investors and to conveniently avoid the ethics of holding us captive within these algorithmic manipulations.
Thankfully, the downsides of Netflix’s “efficiency” features have been recognised by users around the world. A Netflix user from Seattle called Mark Boszko has launched a petition titled “Netflix, We Want to Watch the Credits” and many others have voiced their dissatisfaction with the platform’s practices on social media. If Netflix is aggressively capitalising on our regressive attention spans by spamming viewers with “Skip the Intro” buttons, disrupting our browsing experience with constant promos and modifying the cinematic experience by erasing the tradition of end credits, it is safe to say that it does not respect its own content as works of art. For Netflix, the artistic efforts of thousands of creators are just commodities to be pushed around for us to click. And then we click again.