Last week the 2015 Emmy nominations were announced. Usually, it’s probably not something that many people pay attention to, but this year’s nominees had one thing in common. For the first time, network television took a back seat. There are new players in the game. Netflix, HBO, ShowTime, and cable television have successfully entered the small screen arena with shows such as Bloodline, Homeland, House of Cards, Better Call Saul, Silicon Valley, and Orange is the New Black. The way people watch television has changed. Netflix releases a show’s entire season at one time. HBO and ShowTime have eliminated the need for commercials. Cable television has taken more risks with their content and story lines. These companies have monitored trends and maximized the opportunity to reimagine how small screen content is delivered to a changing viewer demographic.
So why should we care? There may be several people who think television is a waste of time while for others it provides a mental escape, if nothing else. We care because consumer needs are always changing and if we decide not to pay attention, we may find ourselves in network television’s precarious situation.
Higher education is dealing with a similar shift, not with viewers, but with students. As the economy shifts so do the needs of students and employers. Not very long ago, Netflix found itself in an interesting position. Viewers wanted immediate access to entertainment content. DVD sales started to decline and streaming was the way of the future. Netflix paid attention to this shift and started planning for the future instead of protecting the past. They acknowledged the rapidly evolving market and its fickle consumers.
For years, higher education has enjoyed the luxury of being at the top of its game with little competition, much like network television. Now with the development of new and increasingly better technology, consumers and students are expecting companies to keep up with their demands. Similar to Netflix viewers, students want the option to “stream” their education. They want immediate access in order to meet their workplace needs. Students want the option to choose the delivery method, the content, and the institution. They want a meaningful education that results in a degree with recognized marketplace value.
Netflix’s leadership had a vision and was not going to allow diminishing DVD sales to signal the company’s irrelevance within the industry. Instead, Netflix opened its arms wide and embraced streaming entertainment. Higher education has the same opportunity. While the traditions of the past are important, the non-traditional student is now the new traditional student. Higher education needs a Netflix approach in order to survive; otherwise, we will not only witness the death of network television, but the death of higher education as we know it. Students want control of their education and the freedom of options. They want it all at once or in pieces, but mostly, they want it to support their goals, not block them.
Clearly the success of the Netflix model, releasing the entire season of 'House of Cards' at once, proved one thing: The audience wants the control. They want the freedom. If they want to binge as they've been doing on 'House of Cards' and lots of other shows, we should let them binge. ~ Kevin Spacey
How can your institution allow students to “stream” their education?