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Netflix purchases shows partly based on illegal download figures


Originally published in Wired UK on Sept. 16, 2013 

by Liat Clark

Netflix has revealed that it closely monitors pirate download figures in countries in order to determine which television shows it should purchase. 

In an interview with Tweakers coinciding with the launch of Netflix in the Netherlands, vice president of content acquisition Kelly Merryman said “with the purchase of series, we look at what does well on piracy sites”, adding that that is why Netflix purchased the rights to Prison Break in the Netherlands — it’s one of the most popular series featuring on pirate services there.

Where there is a high frequency of torrenting going on in a specific country it can also be a sign of opportunity for services such as Netflix, CEO Reed Hastings told Tweakers.

“There’s some torrenting that goes on [in the Netherlands] and that’s true around the world, but some of that just creates the demand. Netflix is so much easier than torrenting because you don’t have to deal with files, download them and move them around.”

This, Hastings adds, is where Netflix can win over consumers — it might not have an unlimited database of content due to licensing restrictions, but it’s certainly a nicer, more streamlined way to watch your favourite show.

The company does not specifically set out to persuade consumers away from pirate sites, Hastings says, but “think[s] how do we build an awesome service that people just want to use and watch”. A big part of that right now, and going forward, is original content. It gives the members exclusive access to premieres, ensuring streaming services do not interminably feel several steps behind broadcast television which always beats it to series access. And although it is not in direct competition with industries such as cinema, it does look at what does well in the cinema to help expand its original content. For example, earlier this year Netflix signed a multi-year deal with Dreamworks Animations to transform characters from some of its best-loved films into 300 hours worth of original programming. 

report released in November 2012 corroborated the theory that as online streaming services increase in popularity in a given country, illegal firesharing begins to drop in that region. For instance, in the US where Netflix (according to Hastings) is now in one out of every three households, Bittorrent takes up just 10.3 percent of web traffic down from 19.2 percent in 2010.

The report concluded: “We believe that the reason for [Bittorrent’s] slide is primarily due to the increasing number of legitimate and affordable real-time entertainment options available to subscribers.” It went on to predict that Bittorent would take up less than 10 percent of web traffic in North America by 2015 if the trend continues.

Holding up services like Netflix in gaining a greater share of web traffic in the immediate future however, are the complex content licensing laws and agreements that differ from country to country in places like Europe. “People want us to have everything and we want to have everything but RTL and HBO block us from having everything,” says Hastings. Bidding for the best remaining picks in any given country is expensive business, and each purchase has to be measured against keeping Netflix competitively priced.


Dark Side of the Humanities


In this week’s Chronicle: a discussion of “The Dark Side of the Digital,” an event sponsored by the 21st Century Studies Center at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, featuring Rita Raley and other scholars.

“After a week of faculty backlash against online education, including the refusal of San Jose State University professors to teach a Harvard philosophy course offered via edX, the down sides of digital learning emerged as a hot topic, too.

In a talk dubbed “,” Rita Raley, an associate professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, described how societal and technological changes had “reconditioned the idea of the university into that of an educational enterprise that delivers content through big platforms on demand.”….


Conference: The Humanities & the Future of the University


Live stream: The Humanities and the Future of the University

Participants include Lawrence S. Bacow, Homi K. Bhabha, Stefan Collini, Drew G. Faust, Lynn A. Hunt, Sheldon I. Pollock, and Diana Sorensen.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
4:00pm (streaming)

College value and debt


How should we account for the value of college, and the costs of the degree?  Two points of view:

Dale J. Stephens, “Do You Really Have to Go to College?,” NY Times, March 7, 2013

“If you have the flexibility to choose your own education, you also have the flexibility to choose your own life.  This is the blessing of the hackademic.”

Charles M. Blow, “The Dangerous ‘New Normal’ in College Debt,” NY Times, March 8, 2013

Comments on reports about current levels of student debt.

The Issue of “Degree Inflation”

Although this is certainly not a new topic, I saw it fit to share this article with our class, which got me thinking about the economics of education, and questions such as: is “degree inflation” a problem unique to certain industries/fields/cities/regions? What other industries resemble being in a similar predicament? How does the requirement of a college degree from a four-year university affect the function of the university (and the “humanist enterprises” that extend beyond/from it)? How does it influence specific job markets and “the” job market at large? If there is such a high standard* (fully acknowledging the complications of this word choice) for such menial, lackluster employment opportunities, then how does this affect the standard for jobs whose minimum prerequisites are much higher to begin with? Where do we see the trajectory of this trend going? How can we, as participants of the university and academia, initiate active awareness or plausible remedies to an issue like this? Or, is it too far out of reach/out of our hands?

And what about the social element that is an undeniable byproduct of this “degree inflation,” as evidenced in the last sentence of the article?: “You know, if we had someone here with just a G.E.D. or something, I can see how they might feel slighted by the social atmosphere here,” he says. “There really is something sort of cohesive or binding about the fact that all of us went to college.”

Thinking of the William James anecdote about the student of philosophy, how would our industry (academia) react to a new member that didn’t have a PhD? How would this affect the university today, from “office camaraderie” (at the annual department holiday party) to potentially serious legal and social issues, i.e. the university’s paying customers (students, their parents, etc.) objecting at having to pay so much money for classes taught by professionals who don’t have a PhD? (This would inevitably be more complicated for more expensive/private institutions, no?) Is this perhaps already an issue? Either way, how do we cope? As a student and an employee of the university, I feel compelled to engage with the issues this article triggers and take up the challenge to learn more about them and even do something about them (even if that means simply interacting and discussing with my peers about them).

Just some bedtime thoughts to ponder…

– Danielle

Reminder: Event Tomorrow, Wednesday February 20!

Hi everybody,

I just wanted to post a reminder about the Scholarly Communications at the Crossroads event tomorrow, Wednesday February 20, being held at the NYU Humanities Initiative at 20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor, at 4:30pm.

As I mentioned in class, you will need to RSVP if you are attending. Even if you have the slightest, murkiest intentions on attending and aren’t exactly sure how that intent will pan out, just let me know anyway (

Thanks so much, hope to see you tomorrow!

– Danielle

Scholarly Communications at the Crossroads

Hi, all!

As a few of you know, I work at the Humanities Initiative at NYU, which hosts a plethora of events and readings that either relate directly to or would function in great conversation with our course.

One such event is taking place next Wednesday afternoon, February 20 at 4:30pm at the Humanities Initiative (20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor*) called Scholarly Communications at the Crossroads, which is a panel discussion on the current state and future of academic presses and scholarly communications. I think it’s right up our alley, will prove for fruitful discussion, so you should come! If that’s not enough: it’s free. More/latent motivation? A reception will follow, and we have a great caterer.

Also, the panel comprises of a great line-up of very interesting people whose thoughts and opinions I know I myself am extremely anxious to hear! They include:

  • Jennifer Crewe, Editorial Director, Columbia University Press.
  • Ellen W. Faran, Director, MIT Press.
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communications at the Modern Language Association (and a Visiting Research Professor of English at NYU!)
  • Steve Maikowski, Direcor of NYU Press.
  • Niko Pfund, President and Academic Publisher, Oxford University Press (USA).
  • John Wilken, Associate University Librarian for Publishing and Library Information Technology at the University of Michigan.

Great panel, am I right or am I right? So please do come if you can make it, I’ll keep you all up to date on the event should anything change, although I don’t think anything will, and I’ll send an email reminder or something once we approach the date next week!

Have a great weekend!


* located basically between 5th and 6th streets and Bowery; same building as the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and the Journalism Department, in case you are already familiar with either, as well as the Institute for Public Knowledge and the New York Institute for the Humanities (which came up in our discussion earlier this week).

Marron Institute

On Wednesday NYU announced a new project: the Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment. One of the leaders of the new Institute, Professor Paul Romer, writes about the Institute’s treatment of the “city as a unit of analysis,” a perspective that he hopes will “disrupt academic life in some useful ways.” How can we compare this new project to Taylor’s case for universities organized around specific problems? Does this seem like an innovative way to structure a degree-granting program? Let’s discuss!

Two more Scalar workshops this week


Micha Cardenas is leading two Scalar workshops in the NYC area this week: Tuesday, Feb 12, at THATCamp CAA and also during CAA itself.

THATCamp CAA program

Macaulay Honors College, 35 West 67th Street (map)
2:30-3:30 pm

Preparation for Monday, Feb. 11


Exercise 1, due Monday, Feb 11

Visit the NYU Archives and select an artifact from the documentary record of New York University; capture an image and/or quotation, and post the artifact in our Scalar book.  Write an annotation for the artifact, that suggests the significance of the artifact for thinking about historical meanings and forms of humanist enterprises.  Your annotation should include identifying information, and include exposition, analysis, and/or interpretation of the artifact not available from other sources.  You should post your annotation in Scalar as well. You are encouraged to surf around the finding aids to the university archives, to acquaint yourself with the diversity of materials available, ranging from the Founding of the University, 1830-1982,  to the records of student literary clubs such as the Philomathean Society, 1832-1888 and Philomathean Society, 1832-1888, to student Nineteenth Century Notebooks, Diaries, and Journals, 1833-1938 (Bulk 1833-1883), to manuscript papers of faculty, students, programs, alumni, academic freedom, etc.  You are also encouraged to spend time surfing around a particular collection at the archives, to get a better sense of the kind of materials they contain, and to give yourself the opportunity for open-ended discovery that any archive invites.

FYI, a timeline of NYU history can be found here:

As a backup, please bring hard copies of your annotations to class on Monday. See you then!