How the digital distribution of television is changing the digital landscape

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How the digital distribution of television is changing the digital landscape

Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution by Ramon Lobato, New York University Press, US $25.00, Pp 240, January 2019, ISBN 978-1479804948

We have already covered a lot of distance on the Information Superhighway. We hardly talk about it anymore. We are already in the middle of the Information Revolution. The change that has been wrought within a generation is tremendous. A generation ago, television was a broadcast medium; it now travels through our smartphones, fiber optic cables and wireless networks. New global giants such as Netflix have emerged with the ambition of capturing the global market. The globalization and digital distribution of the television have also created political and policy tensions. In Netflix Nations, Ramon Lobato explores these political and policy tensions the digital distribution has created by tracing the history of the media distribution.

Ramon Lobato tells us that much of the world has embraced Netflix, and series such as ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Narcos’ have amassed cult followings in many countries. Yet Netflix’s metamorphosis into a global media provides has not been trouble free. Shortly after Hasting’s announcement, newspapers in a number of counties started reporting angry reactions to the Netflix global switch-on. In Kenya, the chairman of the Film Classification Board threatened to block Netflix on the grounds of its “shockingly explicit eroticism,” arguing that “We cannot afford to be [a] passive recipient of foreign content that could corrupt the moral values of our children and compromise our national security.” In Indonesia, access to Netflix was blocked by the state-owned telecommunications Company (Telco) Telekom Indonesia because of a “permit issue” and the “unfiltered” nature of its content. In Europe, where there is a long history of cultural policy designed to keep Hollywood’s power in check, regulators planned a minimum European content quota for foreign streaming platforms. Meanwhile, Australians fretted that the arrival of Netflix would “break” the internet as steamers hogged the bandwidth on the country’s creaking internet infrastructure.

Ramon Lobato focuses on how streaming services such as Netflix are changing the spatial dynamics of global television distribution, and what theories and concepts scholars need to make sense of these changes. In answering these questions, Ramon Lobato says that the book moves across several subfields of media and communications research, including global television studies, media industry studies, and media geography. Along the way, we also delve into the history of earlier systems for transnational television distribution (especially satellite) and consider how they raised similar questions in the past.

Audiences still skew local in their tastes. Netflix’s localization strategy and its commitment to new original production in multiple languages underscore the fundamentally local nature of global taste. While there are pockets of demand for high-touch English language content in many nations, the general pattern is that audiences still want the television in their own language, with familiar faces and culturally relevant stories.  Ramon Lobato argues that there is no coherent Netflix effect on a global scale. Ramon Lobato writes, “Rather than having a uniformly disruptive effect, Netflix has had quite different effects in different national contexts — ranging from disruption of broadcast and pay-TV incumbents to modest success as a niche service. Netflix’s subscriber base differs substantially from county to county precisely because Netflix occupies different market positions within these counties.” In return, Netflix has been structurally transformed by its internationalization.

Netflix Nations is an important and timely addition to the existing scholarly literature on the digital distribution of television and how it is changing the digital landscape. It is one of the first studies of the global geography of online television distribution that explores the digital media landscape and how the internet’s capacity for world distribution of television clashes with national media trade, and taste and moral values. Ramon Lobato explores how the digital distribution of the television reshaping modern civilization. This well-researched, nuanced and brilliantly-written will the way you think of media, globalization, and power.

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