Capitalism’s Rising Star: The Online Subscription Service
By Joe Langabeer & Enya Menichini
From theatre to tv, from the film industry to the gaming world. The online subscription service is beginning to dominate the world. Generations like the millennials and the Zoomers have become the primary consumer for the online subscription service, consuming multiple services that offer binge-worthy content. From the surface, the subscription services look promising. It is cheaper, more sustainable and contains more content than could ever be imagined. So why is this article being written? With the move of the subscription service being inevitable, and eventually compulsory for most platforms. It is time to discuss the intrinsic capitalist nature of the online subscription and how it could provide more harm then good. In Subscription Capitalism: The Story of a Power Shift, describes the power shifts transitioning from free internet interaction to corporations finding their initial investments through subscription services. Making the internet free for capitalist ventures. This article will dissect the purposes of the internet and its integration with capitalism, the exploitation of consumers and the drive to push away state-funded organisations (ie BBC). Although, the state-funded organisations have not helped themselves when dealing with the devil. This article also seeks to discover the movements happening within each of the industries, and the parts they play which could wipe out the “mantra” of capitalist’s ethos: That everyone has a chance to play.
The most basic of internet services came in the 1960’s with time-sharing on computers. With the help of coding, this gradually shifted into sharing applications online. Now of course, applications are seeped into us without really connecting what developed it in the first place. The gentlest leap pushed forward to make fully-rounded software services such as the email service which includes Hotmail and Gmail in the 1990’s. The capitalist entry into the internet, however, was not as assimilating as the software components. The purpose of the internet was to be of free-use where anyone and everyone could set up their own world on it. Small businesses could thrive off it as it was able to be set up with little cost and moved into an economy system much like free-market capitalism. There were many search engines and not one stood among the rest. Now, of course, Google is the most popular. This grows to the point where people believe that Google Is the internet, rather than a part of it. In an article by a group of online consultants entitled People v. Google - Could Google control the Internet?, Google was irritated by the fact that they had to have “link farms” which essentially gives people fair rights to have their links shown no matter how much traffic they receive. It is a prominent law within most countries and helps keep traffic down in case if less-structured websites were loaded with users which starts to crash their website. Some websites have retaliated to this, saying that some of Google’s meddling in where they send users through manipulation has affected the impartiality of the internet. Google is not the internet, but it is starting to play corruption to become it. Google workers recently came out and criticised google’s manipulation over the right to reveal working exploitation. This included the right to reveal discrimination, unsafe working conditions, wage theft and reporting illegal activity. The contract workers are hit the hardest and treated as second-class citizens compared to the full-time employees. This was reported by Business Insider in the article Google workers say their contracts prevent them from reporting illegal activity. The type of power that these corporations do not only dominate with money but dominate with capitalist hegemony. A power that controls our daily habits and routines.
After the sense that capitalism was not able to monetise as much with singular programming software, they chose a new venture: Cloud computing. When the technological components were fast enough to handle higher bandwidths, capitalism started to take notice. Cloud computing is a service that can be supplied via the internet. There are consequences to this, and those consequences could spell dangerous impacts on the future. A lot of these companies are built on multi-system usage which can enhance the globalisation effect. It does mean, however, that there is no internal infrastructure and that most of their sources come from a centralised source. Relating back to the earlier article on Subscription Capitalism, it says:
“Consider Netflix’s experience with one of the largest cloud servers in existence, Amazon’s Web Services (AWS). Like other services, AWS has gone down several times since its inception. Whenever it does, it takes down thousands of other businesses with it, including big names such as Netflix, Instagram, Airbnb, and Reddit. On Christmas eve 2012, an AWS outage2 caused Netflix to lose streaming, an event that some believe impacted Netflix sales for years subsequently. Worse, Netflix’s competitor, Amazon’s instant video service, remained online. The failure was caused by routine maintenance that had gone wrong.”
Of course, the system regularly goes down, but it is not for too long. The issue with that, however, is that it becomes more prone to new warfare such as cyberattacks or restrictive hacking. The biggest issue with it? Is that capitalist entities are all intertwined and therefore that idea of “competition” has been completely evaporated by the bigger streaming services. Theatre has had a tough negotiation in the streaming platform. You often get streaming events from popular theatre venues such as National Theatre Live and the Globe. But it often will be undercut by capitalist corporations because they have that power to run it efficiently. Another consequence to this is how the property law currently treats customers who have purchased these subscriptions as there is not pro-consumer movements put in place to handle these types of events. If any of these companies were to go bankrupt, then all that content would evaporate, and your money has no meaning anymore. Some companies differ in their property laws, but companies like Google, Amazon and Netflix have poor consumer laws that would not care for the consumable goods that you are entitled to when making that transaction. It is often a case in the terms and conditions that you have consented to the possession of your money to them. Another consequence for the consumer is the dominant market force drivers who can manipulate customers over their dependency. Referring to the earlier article, it makes this observation:
“But there is a shift in market power as Amazon drives out the competition. As in business-to-business software, once customers develop a dependency, prices can be raised on the intangible with relative impunity, especially if there are no equivalent alternatives. In 2018, Amazon boosted the cost of Amazon Prime in the United States by 20 percent, far above inflation. The rationale presented to the customer is that Amazon offers more services through Prime, such a video streaming, Kindle books, ad-free music, etc. Note that Amazon offered these services before the price rise and that Amazon dictates to their customers what is included in Amazon Prime. A dependent customer will end up paying for the extra intangibles whether they want them or not.”
There also becomes a problem that consumers never actually own their products outright. This has become hotly debated in the gaming world, where subscription services are starting to become the normality and bait consumers by using “exclusivity” to manipulate consumers into accepting their online service. Google Stadia has been one of the biggest culprits in the video-game streaming world which made you pay for the hardware, subscribe with a yearly subscription for over £100 and then have the audacity to charge you for the game. Only to play it with a shallow marketing ploy of “higher quality”. The consumer responded negatively with low sales and loss of interest, which has left Stadia’s lifeline in the balance. If Google did decide to remove it from their systems, then all consumers who bought into that product will lose all the money that they have paid for. That is in the terms and conditions and that is the way that these “big-tech” companies respond to their consumers.
Subscription services are the future, but it represents no different future to the one we have been living in between the past thirty years. The technology has adapted, sure, but the neo-liberal instant result-type economy has been around for almost a generation. This has been seen by the rise of e-books, music listening, telephones, and any technological advancement that capitalism is able to exploit. What it does start to do is hurt entities that may try to keep up with their mode of thought. The BBC is an example of this. BBC sold a lot of their global rights of shows to Netflix, to make money to invest in their other shows. The problem with that is now they are struggling to promote their shows on the BBC as Netflix owns the rights. The BBC have tried to develop a new streaming service which has seen low user ratings and the result means that the BBC have had to see themselves be criticised and dismantled at the seams. George Monbiot points more faults towards the BBC’s editorial news focus in the Guardian article The biggest threat to the BBC's independence is the corporation itself which analysis the problems with bias in the BBC news editorial team. This is a separate department to the entertainment sector, but they are treated in the same way from a financial perspective. There is no suggestion in this article that all streaming services are problematic, and indeed some of them access the best work that has been viewed in decades. But the companies running the streaming monopolies do not contribute to society. Culturally or economically. Netflix, Google and Amazon have all avoided paying any income or corporation tax to the United Kingdom. All companies have been revealed to have exploitative workers conditions. An example of this is Netflix bosses calling immediate redundancies without payments and in front of other staff for behaviour conducts that would not be considered offensive under worker’s law. What’s the best way to stop this type of behaviour? Support the BBC and other nationalised sectors. Campaign for nationalised sectors to go onto streaming platforms and support independent work which is clearly not being viewed on these monolith streaming giants. The damage that these companies are doing should be addressed and better, should be removed from demanding a hegemony of capitalism and power. Replace it with a BBC that is fit for purpose and well-funded to showcase a wealth of entertainment that everyone can experience.