Diversity, Technology, and the
Superiority of Streaming Services
When consumers express a want, a business will deliver. The entertainment industry thrives off of tailoring its products to the desires of an audience, but Hollywood actually fails to do so in a major way: diversity. Now, though, Hollywood has competition. Streaming services are taking the entertainment industry by storm, and this newer branch of entertainment actively listens to the desire for diversity that grows ever louder.
Contrary to a popular Hollywood belief, diversity sells. In the 2015-16 season of television and movies, diverse content had the “highest box office and viewership numbers” according to a UCLA study. Audiences have only gotten hungrier for diversity since then, as seen by social media, where hashtags such as #RepresentationMatters are being used this very minute, and by the overwhelming successes of 2017’s Get Out and 2018’s Black Panther. However, in the words of Marina Fang in her Huffington Post article “Audiences Want Diversity In Hollywood. Hollywood’s Been Slow To Get The Message,” Hollywood sees these successes as “the exception rather than the rule.” A demand as loud as the demand for diversity cannot go unheard, though, and streaming services have stepped in where conventional Hollywood is failing.
The newness of streaming naturally puts such companies on the cutting edge. Streaming services listen attentively to what younger audiences want and find out how to deliver it in the most satisfactory way possible. The coveted 18-34 age demographic wants diversity, and teenaged audiences want it even more. Knowing that today’s youth are tomorrow’s primary consumers, streaming services create content that will please the younger demographic, gain their trust, and make them long-term customers.
Also, streaming services have the ability to not only keep tabs on what audiences want but to deliver content tailored to an individual through algorithms. Theatrical releases and network television don’t have that luxury as they are not digital platforms. Algorithms give a content provider “insight into every second of the viewing experience,” says Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, as quoted in the book Distribution Revolution: Conversations about the Digital Future of Film and Television. The data shows that viewers watch content with diverse casts, and streaming services see that data firsthand- it’s built into their structure. That knowledge leads to action. If audiences want diversity, then streaming services will hire diverse writing teams, directors, and casts. They will deliver the highest quality diverse content they can in order to win over customers, thus gaining an edge over Hollywood.
Given their social advantage, streaming services could grow larger than Hollywood and cause the old Tinseltown machine to fizzle into irrelevance. Audiences trust streaming services with diversity, but streaming wins audiences over in more ways than that. People are drawn to “on-demand” entertainment, described by media scholar Amanda Lotz in her book The Television Will Be Revolutionized as programming “produced in any decade” that can be watched anywhere, from “‘living room’ sets” to “portable devices.” Also, as far as specifically television programming is concerned, consumers are cutting the cord. Between the prices of cable and the fact that streaming offers not only more diverse content but more content in general, people are ditching cable and switching to streaming services as their form of television. Granted, the cable industry is stable, but its allure is coming into question. It no longer has complete control over consumers’ television habits. In the future, streaming could very well become the dominant television industry. It could become the dominant entertainment industry in general. Hollywood is socially out of date, the industry isn’t changing meaningfully and relies on tokenism to pass as diversity, and streaming is more convenient to top it all off. Diversity is the future. Technology is the future. Streaming is in line with the trajectory of societal progression. Audiences and professionals have been petitioning Hollywood to change for years, and a time may come when audiences turn their backs on Hollywood and turn toward an industry that has earned their trust.
Another factor worth mentioning is the COVID-19 pandemic. When the world had no choice but to stay inside, many people turned to entertainment to bide their time, and streaming services hooked a significant amount of new customers. In the case of Netflix, it was over ten million new subscribers between March and May 2020. And in the United Kingdom, 55% of adults who newly subscribed to streaming during the pandemic said that they would continue their subscriptions and keep up their watching habits even as lockdown restrictions lessened, according to the Media Nations 2020 study. Major studios also tested the water of digital distribution, releasing new movies digitally since audiences physically could not go to theaters. The pandemic proved how valuable and enticing streaming and digital content is to audiences and businesses alike. In addition, the issue of racial equality came into public awareness on an unavoidable level during the lockdown months. The ripple effect of this social revolution inevitably makes its way to entertainment. Non-diverse casts will no longer be acceptable. Stereotyping will no longer be acceptable. Hollywood needs to step up, unless they come up with an out.
Hollywood could simply absorb the streaming industry. Instead of putting the work in to make Hollywood comply with social demands, Hollywood can absorb an industry that already did the work. At the end of the day, Hollywood is a business. The largest possible profit is the goal. If diversity will bring in that profit, then Hollywood studios can essentially hire others to take care of diversity for them by purchasing companies like Netflix. Studios won’t have to labor over changing their system at a fundamental level and they can expand their assets. Racial equality activists might have a different endgame in mind, but one can only expect so much from corporations.
Lopez, R. (2017, November 06). Despite Dollars in Diversity, Hollywood Still Averse to Making Inclusive Films. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://variety.com/2017/film/news/diversity-box-office-winners-hollywood-1202603438/
TV watching and online streaming surge during lockdown. (2020, August 05). Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53637305
Fang, M. (2018, February 27). Audiences Want Diversity In Hollywood. Hollywood’s Been Slow To Get The Message. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hollywood-diversity-study-black-panther_n_5a954898e4b0699553cc3cc8
Burroughs, B. (2018). House of Netflix: Streaming media and digital lore. Popular Communication, 17(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/15405702.2017.1343948