I think it’s pretty safe to assume that everyone who enjoys TV and movies has welcomed the entry of Netflix as a worldwide, legal entertainment platform. The young ones will never know how difficult it was to watch international media before the days of paid streaming, but as a connoisseur of American and British television from a very young age, I remember having to jump through hoops to watch anything decent, back in the dark ages before the internet. Before streamable speeds were a thing, we had only the TV and local networks, which either didn’t air the stuff being shown overseas or aired them three or four seasons late. (This is probably why every Indian who grew up in the ’90s can quote Friends from memory, because it was one of the very few American shows that was played non-stop on local TV.) Then the internet blew up and illegal pirating started, and it hasn’t really stopped since then.
I think 90% of the people I know have watched something (if not most things) illegally online, myself included. I really can’t judge – in this day and age, it’s silly to expect people to wait years to watch something (especially when the internet has no geo-restrictions and is always rife with spoilers) or to be able to watch TV at a specific time on a specific day. The rise of video-on-demand and streaming services has shown that if people are given the opportunity to watch media legally, a lot of times, they will. Case in point: almost every person I know has a Netflix account now (or shares one with someone, thank goodness for their multi-person access option).
I love my Netflix account, but Netflixing in India is very different to Netflixing in Singapore. I’ve ranted about my data cap woes before, and Netflix is where that data cap pinches the most. Where I would happily stream hours of TV in a day (and I mean hours, they don’t call it binging for nothing), I’m forced to keep to more modest timings here. Where I could watch everything on a high-definition 40-inch TV screen, I’m now restricted to my tablet or my phone, which consume far less data than even my laptop. (And to think I once used to be a purist who couldn’t bear the thought of watching things on a small phone screen. How the mighty do fall.)
One of the good things Netflix introduced recently was the ability to download movies and episodes on portable devices like phones and tablets to watch later (without an internet connection). While I never required this option in Singapore, I planned to put it to full use here, taking advantage of the data war that’s been brewing in India since late last year. The details aren’t important, but the bottom line is that the local telcos have been falling over themselves trying to bait customers with free data. Having two SIM cards, each with varying amounts of free data in differing instalments with different deadlines, I played data gymnastics and made the most of it to download as many Netflix episodes as I could to watch… well, eventually. (I probably spend more time these days deciding what to watch than actually watching things, but that’s another post altogether.)
And so, over the span of two days, I downloaded some 40-50 episodes (literally full seasons of multiple TV series), very gung-ho about the fact that I’d somehow “cheated the system” and temporarily gotten ahead of my data woes. I celebrated too quickly – Uncle Murphy was due a visit, of course. When I next checked my Netflix account, every single thing I had downloaded had disappeared. I spent two days chasing up the problem with Netflix officials, one of whom cheerily asked me to “just re-download the episodes again”. If we had been video-chatting, and if looks could incinerate, that customer service representative would have been a smouldering pile of ash.
Now I’m back to square one, enjoying Netflix like no one should have to – on my phone, one measly episode a day. Still, I remember a time when I refused to go to a family gathering because I wanted to secretly watch a new episode of Roswell on TV (of course, I told my parents I had to study). When I think about those days, just the very idea of Netflix makes me grateful. Good things are relative.