Published: May 25, 2017 12:00:00 PM

netflix-nav.gifReaching back, I recall my first encounter with Netflix. My fiendish college roommate was renting and returning DVDs from the service as quickly as he could, keeping them only as long as it took to copy the movies onto blank discs. Oh, the malice (/s).

Considering we didn't have access to cable TV and the nearest Wal-Mart was a 60-minute drive from our college, could you blame us for embracing an alternative, cost-effective, non-multi-camera sitcom entertainment model?

Flash to today and we're left to wonder: if Netflix was formerly the alternative to all that, what'll be the Netflix alternative? What comes next...?

Is entertainment fragmentation a good thing?

Netflix spoke to an audience that didn't have access to the monopolized entertainment infrastructure. These were craftier folks comfortable with either sidestepping, or straight bear-hugging, a different user interface. Netflix capitalized on this savvier demographic and psychographic group willing to navigate their movie library online. These were people that got their news from the internet instead of newspapers, shopped for music on iTunes instead of brick and mortar CD shops, and found video game competitors online instead of on the couch beside them.

Early Netflix adopters pushed the landscape forward, gathering entertainment from the most convenient (and affordable) sources. It was the ala-carte / ten-ton elephant-gorilla hybrid format cable providers hosted for nightmare-time each evening. While it might've fragmented what was formerly just television, and everything on it, the ends result was better. Blockbuster Video, god rest its decaying corpse, is dead and in the ground because millions of wallets voted for a better version of video rental.

The Netflix alternative was a weird prospect at the time, receiving DVDs in the mail. Then again, so were cassette tapes, which music industry professionals feared would kill their business. It turned out Napster would be that bullet and the internet was the gun that fired it.

There's a great deal more personality and customization when entertainment is fragmented and put in the hands of artists. In a world where independent video games and downloadable free books are becoming realistic prospects, stealing time from Netflix itself, how do determine what comes next?

Discovering the next Netflix alternative.


(Yes, the struggle is real, but you need something new in your life.)

This is an exciting time because it's so terribly unpredictable (political uncertainty notwithstanding). We can look to the past to determine the next wave. What will be our eventual Netflix alternative? Instead of scrolling through the endless queue of Netflix's medium-to-excellent original programming—trashy action and horror films blended into the buffet like bad mortgages—we'll have to dream up a different way to entertain ourselves.

I don't just mean Hulu (or Amazon Instant Video (or HBO Now)). I mean a more personally-curated and intellectually-specific manifestation of who we are as people. That includes:

  • Music
  • Movies
  • Games
  • Books
  • Video
  • Visual
  • Conversational
  • Craft

And things we haven't thought of. Who would've imagined a generation of Americans that found the alternative to owning a car wasn't the bicycle or a telephone in their bedroom, but a Snapchat account? Who would've imagined the American dream wasn't home ownership, but a healthcare plan that doesn't consider "having teeth" a pre-existing condition?

But this is the world we live in.

If you desire personal control, seek a more diverse time-spend outside of just streaming video and an Instagram feed mostly comprised of ultra-celebrities and paid influencers. Find your Netflix alternative before the rest of the world. Yes, it's hard to discover and support smaller acts. It's hard to plant your flag for a band, a game, or a book that nobody's ever heard of. But even Rocket League and Harry Potter started small. Venturing outside your comfort zone is a zero-risk, zero-cost, maximum reward prospect. 

What does dividing our attention even further even mean?

Research and fold small, local activities and artists into your day to day. Then expand wider. Include friends and encourage them to do the same while leading by example.

Dividing your attention means a richer life. It doesn't mean Netflix is bad, or watching the entire season of Kimmy Schmidt is a bad idea. It means welcoming more precise attention fragmentation into your life. That's the root of your Netflix alternative.

Is it a local band? Is it free art? Is it free books? Is it hand-made donut from two towns over? Go for it, ya'll! Get it and share it.

The more you try, the more honest you can be with what (and why) you love. This is becoming increasingly normal. If you find your Facebook feed full of people that appear to be having fun, don't roll your eyes at them—be inspired to live differently and more diversely.

-- Alex Crumb
Twitter | Facebook

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