Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Robert Thompson


Broadcasting, Industry Studies, Media History, Netflix, Television Studies

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


When Netflix launched in April 1998, Internet video was in its infancy. Eighteen years later, Netflix has developed into the first truly global Internet TV network. Many books have been written about the five broadcast networks – NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and the CW – and many about the major cable networks – HBO, CNN, MTV, Nickelodeon, just to name a few – and this is the fitting time to undertake a detailed analysis of how Netflix, as the preeminent Internet TV networks, has come to be.

This book, then, combines historical, industrial, and textual analysis to investigate, contextualize, and historicize Netflix's development as an Internet TV network. The book is split into four chapters. The first explores the ways in which Netflix's development during its early years a DVD-by-mail company – 1998-2007, a period I am calling "Netflix as Rental Company" – lay the foundations for the company's future iterations and successes. During this period, Netflix adapted DVD distribution to the Internet, revolutionizing the way viewers receive, watch, and choose content, and built a brand reputation on consumer-centric innovation.

This reputation served it well during its second phase, "Netflix as Syndicator" (2007-12), when the company turned from DVD rentals to online distribution. In chapter two, I explain who Netflix adapted syndication – a business model that has been a staple of US broadcasting for half a century – to Internet distribution. By doing so, Netflix up-ended both the TV industry's traditional content release structures and viewers' habits. By shifting TV distribution to the Internet, Netflix drastically increased the control viewers have over where, when, and on what devices viewers watch TV.

In its third phase, Netflix entered the original programming business by subtly adapting traditional program genres, content, and release schedules to Internet video. I split this phase – "Netflix as Internet Network" (2012-present) – into two chapters. While many of Netflix's concerns parallel those of traditional networks – in terms of production and financing, for example – Internet networks also have a number of unique concerns in areas such as Net Neutrality and distribution windows. Netflix has led the charge on these issues, and chapter three explores Netflix's role as the first Internet network, including the development of its binge-viewing strategy and its push into international distribution.

Finally, chapter four takes a deep dive in Netflix's foray into original program production. In its third phase, Netflix has adapted traditional TV structures to Internet distribution. Despite the innovations in short-form and user-generated content that sites like YouTube, Crackle, and Twitch have named, Netflix's traditional approach to programming has set the template for successful Internet networks that has been adopted by the likes of Hulu, Amazon, and Yahoo Screen. Chapter four analyses Netflix's biggest programs - including House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil and others - to explain how Netflix has adapted traditional TV genres and structures to the freedoms in production, marketing, and content possibilities that the Internet affords.

In the same was that NBC set the example for broadcast networks in the 1950s and HBO developed the framework for cable TV in the 1990s, Netflix has set the template for Internet TV in the 2000s. Netflix's mix of technological advancements, consumer-centric practices, personalized content, and global mindset have become the gold standard for the how-and-why of developing a successful Internet TV network. Although other aspiring Internet networks Hulu and Amazon started out with a different ethos than Netflix, Netflix's financial, creative, and cultural success has forced a series of reactionary decisions from both Hulu and Amazon that have brought them closer and closer to the foundations Netflix began laying out in 1998. So while the Netflix model isn't the only possible model for an Internet network, it has become the blueprint for the newly-developing Internet TV ecosystem.


Open Access