Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Netflix and Hulu’s Fyre Festival Docs Dissect Attendees’—and Your—FOMO

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Netflix and Hulu’s Fyre Festival Docs Dissect Attendees’—and Your—FOMO

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Ja Rule and his Fyre Festival business partner Billy McFarland in the documentary ‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’ on Netflix.

Netflix

Every good story needs a villain. One of the best stories in recent memory was the debacle known as Fyre Festival, a music event promising supermodels and luxury that failed so spectacularly that two documentaries were released about it, both in the same week. The two films, Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, deal with the same subject—an overhyped fete geared toward rich millennials that goes disastrously, publicly wrong—but they come to slightly different conclusions about who to blame for the epic mess. The Greatest Party focuses on Billy McFarland, the mastermind who dreamt up the whole thing with his business partner, rapper Ja Rule, while Frye Fraud extends its scrutiny to everyone who helped promote it.

There’s a good case to be made for pointing the finger at each camp. McFarland is presented in both documentaries as pushing for ever-expanding glitz and glam, all while running out of money and time. Meanwhile, those who promoted the festival—largely a group of social media influencers—marketed the unknown, untested event on their Instagram feeds. But ultimately, both films conclude that the true villain is FOMO, or “fear of missing out”—the internet-fueled psychological phenomenon that defines the existence of the phone-clutching, Instagram-obsessed masses.

But even as Netflix and Hulu’s documentaries critique the festival attendees, and their willingness to dive into an experience promised by a bunch of beautiful people on social media, they also speak to a different kind of FOMO—one built on the schadenfreude of watching Fyre fall apart. It happened once, in real time, when the festival floundered, and it’s happening again now as two streaming services essentially raced to release documentaries about the flameout—something only possible in the gimme-more streaming age. With some of the world’s greatest dramas now unfolding online, it’s only natural that the festival would get a doc, but the audience appetite for not one but two productions shows there are just as many people willing to follow social influencers into the Fyre as there are now lining up to watch it burn.

Under the Influence

Fyre Festival sprouted onto the scene in January 2017 when model-slash-influencer Kendall Jenner announced it to her 100 million Instagram followers. (She was reportedly paid $250,000 for the now-deleted post.) Other model-slash-influencers, like Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Hailey Baldwin, also sent up #fyrefestival flares on their own accounts. The posts, many of them a simple, eye-catching orange tile, racked up millions of likes and generated multiple news cycles about what was supposed to be the latest, hottest luxury music festival that mixed Coachella with Burning Man.

But the true marketing achievement came in the form of a one-minute, 40-second commercial that can only be described as the juice wrung out of a million influencer accounts and reduced down to its concentrated essence like a fine balsamic reduction. Yachts skimming across impossibly aqua water. Models languidly lounging on white-sand beaches, their bodies perfectly framed and perfectly firm. Promises of fireworks and top-tier musical acts. The entire thing looked like An Experience, precisely because the organizers billed it as such. More specifically as “an immersive experience” offering “the best in food, art, music, and adventure” on an island “once owned by Pablo Escobar” that is somehow “on the boundaries of the impossible.”

As one social media strategist in Fyre Fraud put it, “what Fyre Festival did prove is that the power of influence is real.”

If that all sounds like gobbledygook marketing, it’s because it is. In The Greatest Party, the director of the commercial, Brett Kincaid, described the advertisement as “selling a dream, selling a vacation, selling a concept.” Another person described it as the Fyre organizers “selling a vision of what people want.”

And sell it did. The Fyre folks sold 95 percent of the festival’s tickets in 48 hours, according to the Netflix documentary. Prices ranged from $1,500 to $250,000. Some estimated that upward of 10,000 people decided they would not miss out on a chance to immerse themselves in this boundary-bursting journey of a lifetime. As one social media strategist in Fyre Fraud put it, “what Fyre Festival did prove is that the power of influence is real.”

The Infamous Sandwich Tweet

But what was even more real was the logistical nightmare of coordinating such a mammoth festival, a fiasco presented in great detail by both documentaries. Organizers, who gave themselves just a few short months to plan all of Fyre, faced an unrelenting torrent of problems. They had to switch islands after running afoul of Pablo Escobar’s estate. A giant competing event, the National Regatta, was happening on the island the same weekend, taxing the community’s limited infrastructure. There weren’t enough villas for the influencers, and the “geodesic domes” meant to house the majority of the festival-goers were actually disaster relief tents—tents that were flooded when a rainstorm rolled in the night before the festival.

When people finally showed up to the island, they found a muddy, disorganized construction site—and of course, many of them being influencers, they ‘grammed the whole thing. But it was one image—of a now-infamous cheese sandwich—that ricocheted around the internet and effectively tore off the festival’s aspiration filter to reveal Fyre for what it really was.

Tweets from Fyre Festival compared what was promised to what was actually happening on-site.

Netflix

“What [the media] didn’t talk about, which I think was something that was missed, was a couple of powerful models posting an orange tile is essentially what built this entire festival. And then one kid with probably 400 followers posted a picture of cheese on toast that trended and essentially ripped down the festival,” Mick Purzycki, the CEO of Jerry Media, the company hired to help Fyre with social media marketing, says in The Greatest Party. (It’s worth noting Jerry Media also partnered to produce the Netflix documentary.)

Rules of Engagement

In all of this, McFarland comes across as an easy villain. Even after the Frye debacle, the twentysomething “tech entrepreneur” continued his grift, selling tickets he didn’t have to exclusive events like the Grammys. He ended up pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud related to the festival, and was ultimately sentenced to six years in prison.

The influencers are presented poorly as well, as they amplified an event that seemed to only exist in the minds of its organizers. And that’s partly why 100 “Does” have been named in a class-action lawsuit. “We certainly wanted to send the message to influencers that when you post a photograph and you don’t say hashtag advertisement, there is some level of responsibility,” Ben Meiselas, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit, says in Fyre Fraud.

On the internet, sometimes it feels easy to shed the shackles of responsibility. At one point in Fyre Fraud, which interviewed McFarland (and reportedly paid him for it), he says “the internet has no rules.” That’s been part of the problem of late; the place that has been colloquially called “the Wild West” for at least two decades is now being tamed in lots of ways. And, if nothing else, bad actors are being called out, whether that’s online or in feature films. Specific to influencer culture, the FTC has outlined guidelines on how people need to identify product placement advertising. Ultimately, even if the internet has no rules, society does.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired With Interactive TV, Netflix Makes Every Viewer a Showrunner

Hexbyte Tech News Wired With Interactive TV, Netflix Makes Every Viewer a Showrunner

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Netflix made its first concerted push into interactive TV with “Bandersnatch,” a standalone episode of the dystopian sci-fi satire Black Mirror.

Netflix

As we’ve taken our small-screen destiny into our own hands—skinny bundles, “over the top” content, a device-agnostic smorgasbord of streaming—our hands have become empty, idle. Channel surfing feels futile, if not obsolete. TV is no longer a remote-controlled menu to peruse as much as it’s a Tube Goldberg machine carrying our eyes from one diversion to the next. Choice is everywhere; agency, not so much.

Algorithms forever recommend what to watch. Autoplay functions cue up the next episode without waiting for your input. With nothing left to do but gaze and glaze, a viewer’s chief responsibility is to not fall asleep (lest you wake to find yourself five episodes into an unwitting binge of Hell’s Kitchen). It’s strange, then, given its role as the architect of programmatic passivity, that Netflix is handing back the reins via choose-your-own-adventure experiences it’s calling “interactive content.”

Starting in late 2017, Netflix piloted the idea in a handful of children’s shows, peppering installments of Puss in Boots and Buddy Thunderstruck with moments that asked viewers to pick a prompt: Should Puss kiss Dulcinea or shake her hand? Should Buddy and Darnell have a Wet Willie contest or work out and “get jacked”? The decisions gave you a glimmer of control, but Netflix’s latest ambitions lie more in a Sliding Doors or Clue direction: complex stories for grown-ups that reward their choices with starker consequences.

Netflix’s first concerted push into interactive TV, “Bandersnatch,” aired at the end of 2018. A standalone episode of dystopian sci-fi satire Black Mirror (of course), it told the tale of a video­game designer who tries to adapt a choose-your-own-adventure novel that drove its author insane (oh, of course). Not a fourth wall was left standing. The result, a time-­bending existential thriller with terrifying overtones, was twisty and meta enough not to feel like a gimmick. But it’s difficult to imagine another, less shrewd show pulling off such structural contortions.

Not to say they won’t try. As Todd Yellin, Netflix’s vice president of product, told me before “Bandersnatch” premiered, “We’re starting to hear other stories. There’s a rich vein.” Corporate coquettishness aside, more experiences are in the offing—and judging by the company’s prodigious investments in anime, romantic comedy, and other genres, plenty of them.

Netflix knows the value of our choices well. We’re already being prompted to navigate narrative junctures; it’s called “personalization.” We watch shows, so we’re offered new shows. We watch those shows, then learn about still other shows. Each time we bump from one to the next unravels a Boolean knot, an if-then dance of demographics and precedent—who you are, what you’ve watched—that seeks to keep you right where you are rather than discovering the charms of another streaming platform.

Interactive TV may support more insidious ends, though. We’re already on the cusp of relinquishing our subconscious to technology: VR headsets that track our gaze and see our pupils dilate; virtual assistants that read our mood; sneakers that can tell we’re getting tired because our running stride falters. These are reactions, not choices. They don’t have an opt-out feature. And while they might not seem it, our narrative choices add up to a near-biometric signature too, a portrait visible only in aggregate. Do we seek chaos? Play it safe? How long does it take us to select an option about breakfast cereal versus one where we can urge a character to commit suicide? Netflix already famously pores over every byte of viewer behavior data. Now the buttons we choose, the prompts we pick, the tastes they suggest could become part of that great graph that defines how the company sees us. Television in the age of psychographics.

Officially, Netflix sees the interactive option as a “lean in” alternative to the “lean back” nature of conventional TV. But what really changes, experientially? Choose-your-own-adventure storytelling is, at its root, curiosity dressed up as control. By the third time you’ve followed one of the paths in “Bandersnatch” to an arbitrary ending, the only reason to loop back to try another tributary is a completist’s sense of duty. (What’s a watercooler moment when everyone at the watercooler saw only a portion of what’s possible?) When the show finally ends, you feel respect for creator Charlie Brooker’s ingenuity, but you don’t come away feeling changed, as you might after a tightly written, sharply edited, well-constructed hour of television. The more malleable the story, the less cogent the experience.

Videogames, the only real analog for interactive storytelling, have always balanced the trade-off by choosing their illusion, giving players pockets of free will in a straitjacket. You may not affect the outcome in an adventure game like God of War or Red Dead Redemption 2—you’ll get there or you won’t—but navigating the challenges in the story offsets the determinism with a visceral sense of autonomy. (Multiplayer games like Overwatch and Fortnite do away with explicit narrative entirely, baking their lore into the background so as not to interfere with their compete-die-repeat Groundhog Day-ness.)

Netflix’s choose-your-own-adventure content will find its audience—first through novelty, then because creators will tease ever more fireworks out of the form. But interactive TV starts at a disadvantage: It is arriving just as we’ve learned, in so many ways, not to interact at all.


Peter Rubin (@provenself) wrote about the Tetris effect in issue 26.11.

This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Netflix Raises Prices to Stockpile for the Streaming Wars

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Netflix Raises Prices to Stockpile for the Streaming Wars

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is facing a growing collection of competitors, from Amazon to Disney.

Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Netflix announced that it would raise prices across all of its plans in the US. For most people, that means their $11 monthly rate will hop to $13 over the next few months. New customers will pay the higher price starting today. No one likes a price hike, especially given that Netflix had just bumped its most popular subscription’s cost in 2017. But this round’s timing seems especially inauspicious given the flood of streaming competition—from Apple, Disney, WarnerMedia, NBC, and more—that lies just ahead. Or maybe that’s the point.

“On the surface, it does seem to be a bit of jeopardy to increase prices when the competitive services are coming,” says Tony Gunnarsson, a senior analyst at Ovum focused on the streaming media business. Take the Disney+ streaming service, due to arrive later this year. Not only will it yank all of the Marvel, Star Wars, and other Disney-owned content off of Netflix, but the Mouse House has also telegraphed that it’ll cost less. Widening that gap by two more dollars seems contrary to Netflix’s own interests, especially when you add in all the other heavy hitters in media gearing up for subscriptions of their own.

But you don’t have to look very far below the surface to see how Netflix’s move actually makes sense. Remember that the company has 58 million US subscribers; that’s about half of all TV households in the US. For many of them, it has become as indispensable as a cable subscription once was.

“The key thing with Netflix is that they have become a must-have, essential service,” says Gunnarsson. For consumers, it’s the first streaming service you subscribe to and then you add others after that.”

Recent history has borne that out. Over the dozen years that Netflix has offered streaming, it has raised prices four times, including Tuesday. The previous attempts resulted in negligible churn, the industry term for people quitting their accounts. Surely a ceiling exists somewhere for Netflix prices, but $13 seems an unlikely place for it. After all, that’s still a couple of bucks cheaper than HBO.

“We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience,” the company said in a statement.

Your Netflix rate increase will subsidize lower subscription costs in developing markets.

And while Netflix this year will face down a more competitive landscape than it ever has, it’s important to maintain some perspective about just how big a threat all those new services pose, at least in the near term. Other than Amazon, no streaming service has come anywhere close to Netflix’s reach. It’s not just playing from a lead; almost no one else is even in the same stadium. Which is to say, the point at which a significant number of US consumers will be thinking hard about whether to put their dollars toward Netflix or Disney+—to whatever extent it’s one or the other—remains years away.

In the meantime? Netflix will continue funneling that subscription revenue into original content. Shooting Bird Box incurred “qualified expenditures” (which doesn’t include huge swaths of budget like cast and director fees) in the ballpark of $20 million. Netflix spent a reported $90 million on 2017’s Bright, its first tentpole blockbuster. And recent estimates have pegged the company’s overall 2018 original content budget at $13 billion. Investing heavily in its own shows and movies has undeniable benefits; Netflix doesn’t have to navigate international licensing thickets to show them around the world, and they’ll all remain on the service indefinitely. Most of all, its streaming catalog already dwarfs what Apple or even Disney and TimeWarner will be able to offer at launch, both in scale and variety. The more money Netflix takes in, the more it can provide something for everyone, attracting new subscribers, who add more revenue, which becomes more shows, and on and on.

That said, it’s unlikely that all of the price increase will go directly toward Bright 2 and its ilk. In the process of expanding its streaming empire, Netflix has run up $8.3 billion in long-term debt. Extracting an extra two dollars each month from 58 million subscribers won’t make that go away, but it helps.

More importantly, though, even in areas of the world where Netflix’s footprint is smaller than in the US and Europe, the service remains extremely price-competitive. In Malaysia, for instance, it’s testing a mobile-only plan that clocks in at about $4 per month. The dominant streaming force in India—whose 1.3 billion citizens are increasingly online—is a company called Hotstar. Its most expensive plan costs $3 per month.

“They are underway with a huge international expansion plan. We’re talking about markets like India, Southeast Asia, Africa, where Netflix as it stands today is unlikely to be able to replicate the success they’ve had in the Americas and Europe,” says Gunnarsson. “It makes sense to slightly nudge up the subscription charge in mature markets to withstand lower prices that are a must in those developing markets.”

Your Netflix rate increase, in other words, will subsidize lower subscription costs in developing markets, where the company has some serious catching up to do.

How much further Netflix will go with its price bumps will likely depend on how quickly the competition ramps up. But if you’re already starting to feel the strain, and anxious about how the streaming wars will affect your wallet, take at least some comfort that not every option is getting more expensive. In fact, more and more of them are free.


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Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers Netflix stops paying the ‘Apple tax’ on its $853M in annual iOS revenue

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers Netflix stops paying the ‘Apple tax’ on its $853M in annual iOS revenue

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers

Earlier this year, Netflix was seen testing a bypass of iTunes billing across dozens of markets worldwide. As 2018 draws to a close, Netflix — the App Store’s top grossing app — has ditched the ability for new users to sign up and subscribe to the streaming service within its iOS app across all global markets. The change means Apple will miss out on hundreds of millions in App Store revenue per year — money it would have otherwise received by way of its standard cut of in-app transactions.

According to new data compiled by Sensor Tower, Netflix grossed $853 million in 2018 on the iOS App Store. Based on that figure, Apple’s take would have been around $256 million, the firm said.

To date, the Netflix iOS app has generated more than $1.5 billion through its in-app subscriptions, with Apple’s cut coming in around $450 million-plus, Sensor Tower estimated.

Before the change, Netflix on iOS was grossing an average of $2.4 million per day in 2018 — meaning Apple was making around $700,000 by doing nothing other than allowing Netflix to offer subscriptions in its app.

(Note, however, that Sensor Tower’s figures are based on the App Store’s 30 percent cut of transactions. After the first year, Apple’s cut on subscription renewals is lowered to 15 percent. That’s not being factored in. But it gives you a rough idea of Apple’s losses here.)

Netflix’s iOS revenue has been climbing steadily over the years.

In 2017, its gross subscriber revenue was $510 million — up from $215 million users spent in the app in 2016 — which earned it the No. 1 spot on the Top Grossing Chart for non-game apps. It snagged that position again this year, trailed by Tinder and Tencent Video.

In fact, Netflix has earned the bragging rights for being the top-grossing iOS App of all time, App Annie reported this summer.

The streaming service’s decision to bypass the App Store isn’t a first. Many companies today direct their users to the web or other platforms in order to avoid marketplace fees.

For example, Amazon has historically restricted movie and TV rentals and purchases to its own website or other “compatible” apps, instead of allowing them to take place through its Prime Video app. The same goes for Kindle e-books, which also aren’t offered in the Kindle mobile app. Spotify also discontinued the option to pay for its Premium service using Apple’s in-app payment system.

And Epic Games this year bypassed Google’s Play Store altogether — as well as its 30 percent cut — when it launched Fortnite for Android as a sideloaded app. That decision resulted in Google’s loss of $50 million+ in marketplaces fees.

Netflix earlier this year had dropped in-app subscription sign-ups in its Android app on Google Play. That signaled its intentions to later take back the so-called “Apple tax” for itself, too.

However, Netflix still earns money on Google Play through existing subscribers. That totaled around $105 million in 2018, with Google earning close to $32 million of that. But the number has been declining consistently, Sensor Tower said. Apple could soon be in the same boat.

VentureBeat was the first to notice the change to the Netflix iOS app. It would be surprising if Apple took action against Netflix, given it has not done so with other major tech companies that made similar moves.

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Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers Netflix Pulls the Plug on Feature Designed to Get Kids Addicted to Netflix

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers Netflix Pulls the Plug on Feature Designed to Get Kids Addicted to Netflix

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers

Netflix will never stop finding new ways to make its users even more obsessed with Netflix. The streaming platform has largely succeeded in that goal simply by releasing engaging content (hit shows like Stranger Things, for example), not to mention easily facilitating binge-watching and closely studying viewer habits in order to always suggest the perfect next show or movie. But the company’s latest idea—a feature that essentially gamified binge-watching for children—veered diabolical, infuriating parents who don’t want their kids even more addicted to television.

After testing the feature and enduring a sharp round of backlash, Netflix has announced that it will no longer reward kids for spending extra time on Netflix. However, there’s nothing keeping the company from introducing a similar feature aimed at adults, especially since the company blatantly tells its investors that its competitors aren’t just other streaming platforms, but rather literally anything viewers do in their leisure time that is not watching Netflix—quite literally including “going out to dinner with friends or enjoying a glass of wine with their partner, just to name a few.”

“We’ve concluded the test for patches and have decided not to move forward with the feature for kids,” a spokesperson said, according to Variety. “We test lots of things at Netflix in order to learn what works well—and what doesn’t work well—for our members.”

The patch tests were first reported Friday, when Netflix confirmed that it was in fact testing what would happen if it rewarded viewers for finishing a large batch of episodes of a children’s show (A Series of Unfortunate Events, for example). Per Variety, the reward did not unlock any specific prizes or secret content—it was simply a digital badge, a virtual good-for-you-now-watch-this-next-episode gesture of sorts. Somewhere in there is a potentially innocent attempt to add an engaging element to the zombie-like state of binge-watching—but it’s buried under the fact that today’s kids are already addicted to screens, even without the promise of getting bonus points for their viewing habits.

As Variety previously reported, there were plenty of parents who disliked the concept, claiming it encouraged kids to get hooked on TV. Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told Gizmodo that the feature was “designed to turn kids into lobbyists and undermine parents’ limits.”

“It’s just incredible to me that as we’re having this national conversation about persuasive design of tech and how tech is often designed for the benefit of tech companies at the expense of users’ well-being, that Netflix would test something like this,” he continued.

Netflix, it would appear, has heard everyone’s feedback loud and clear. Meanwhile, Count Olaf is busy dreaming up the next test idea.

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Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers Clojure at Netflix

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers Clojure at Netflix

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers

Clojure at Netflix

A talk for Craftsman Guild on my team’s use of Clojure at Netflix. Describes good, bad, and ugly lessons learned from going from a pure-Java codebase to Clojure in production.

Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers 8afe5283fb2d5f0a817c9c9ea4fa925e?s=128

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