In the midst of the coronavirus shutdown, streaming services such as Netflix have been a unifying factor, with many turning to the streaming giant to decompress from the stress of a global pandemic. In fact, Netflix has doubled its first quarter income this year due to a surge in 15.8 million subscribers in large part thanks to the pandemic. However, many people don’t have access to this much needed distraction because over 24 million of us are unemployed and have gotten little to no financial help from the government. In the United States, the majority of people consume their television and movies through streaming services and most are choosing Netflix as their primary content provider. Historically, governments have created a small and limited space in the budget to fund public arts of all kinds , but neoliberal cuts and conservative criticisms in the United States have led to a dwindling budget. There are currently no government sponsored streaming services to meet the needs of the people. With a decline in investment for the arts, I have an idea on how we can create accessible, creative content. Let’s create a free and public Netflix under artists’ control.
To begin with, Netflix is a terrible corporation, up there with the likes of Walmart and Amazon. Netflix has a sordid history of dodging taxes and workplace abuse. It’s currently the largest Streaming Video On Demand (SVOD) company and yet has paid nothing in taxes in the United States. It has 130 million subscribers globally and has pulled in $845 million in profit in 2018 alone and yet has never paid the United States government a cent. To be clearer, Netflix pays taxes abroad, a miniscule amount compared to its profits, but because of the newest U.S. taxation laws that are corporation friendly, they were not held accountable for that money in the country their main headquarters resides in. Additionally, the corporate culture instilled in the Netflix offices is one of fear and absurd corporate jargon. The company is constantly firing employees who haven’t passed “the keeper test,” an arbitrary set of conditions that drives employees to work harder under threat of job dismissal.
Currently, the budget cuts that have been sweeping the nation for the last 40 years have demolished a once well funded public broadcasting system. In times of austerity, public funding for the arts is always the first to go. The United States’ Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), no longer has a Mr. Rogers to come along to Congress and save the station with a song and a smile. Most Presidents since Nixon have done their work on whittling down the budget of PBS. The federal funding for PBS comes from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB), a fund also responsible for the National Public Radio (NPR) programming. Much of the funding opposition consistently comes from conservative representatives, famously including Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan. The dominant criticism is that both PBS and NPR have a “liberal bias” and an “excess of political correctness” while it’s supposed to uphold objectivity in its reporting. The hypocrisy of this is palpable since President Trump and many of the loudest voices against this implied bias are supporters of Fox News, an incredibly biased and overly conservative news outlet.
President Trump, a consistent opponent of the free press, has taken up the cause of defunding the CPB with vigor. He has proposed in his 2020 budget a 94% decrease in federal funding for the CPB. That would take the budget from $465 million to $30 million. Although a majority of their budget comes from fundraising this would be a devastating blow, particularly in more rural communities that have a higher percentage of their funding coming from those federal grants. In fact, a recent study showed that 73% of voters oppose eliminating funding for public television. Defunding public television leads to the majority of Americans only having access to for-profit news and arts programming, where they aren’t liable for anything except their own profit margins.
In 1983, the majority of the media in the United States was owned by 50 companies. However, due to massive consolidations 90% of the media is now owned by 6 companies. Six companies control what arts, culture, and news the average American citizen consumes. The profit margins for these media conglomerates are staggering, cumulatively profiting over $250 billion in 2012 alone. The media landscape in the United States is being sculpted by the rich, oftentimes tailoring their content to satisfy their corporate subsidiaries and stock portfolios interests. With these high profit margins, CEOs and executives are hoarding immense wealth while not being held accountable by the masses for what content is being developed.
The United States does not need another for-profit television station, providing Americans with repetitive sit-com plotlines and cheap and sleazy reality television. We need fully funded art programming that is controlled by the artists themselves. Budgets for film and television have exploded, often ballooning past $50 million, sometimes getting as high as $350 million. However, much of that budget is allotted towards things such as advertising, executives, technological achievements, and the paychecks of the most famous actors and directors of the screen. As the arts become more and more expensive to produce, the costs continue to trickle upwards leaving most actors, writers, and crew with precarious pay. Often these creatives are asked to work for free, commonly told that their pay is the “exposure” the project will give them. Something to add to their audition reel. Artists need real wages not false promises. We need free and public arts programming controlled by artists themselves. Now, more than ever before, people across the globe are turning to the arts to comfort and entertain them. We need creative, engaging, and challenging work given to our society. Business executives, advertising, and an obsession with technological feats lead to Cats: the Musical, not Citizen Kane.
In times of quarantine, many streaming services are extending their free trial window by a week, sometimes two. Media outlets are touting this as a generous, unifying measure, subtly hinting that this is what solidarity looks like in dark times. This is not a generous act, it’s a marketing stunt. Truly free things don’t often ask for your credit card information. We need something truly free. The majority of the world is stuck inside and the world’s population is turning to the arts in droves to distract, entertain, and inspire. With PBS dwindling in funding, American’s should take back their arts programming and have it maintained by the artist’s themselves. Netflix currently has the largest collection with the widest reach in the United States, it is the perfect start to an artist controlled, free streaming service. Until then, share a password with a friend or two.