When you think of the Netflix audience, you probably imagine a young, hip, city millennial (married or perhaps endowed with generous parents) who doesn’t blink twice before spending Rs. 800 on a butter croissant and a premium content subscription. The user data has sliced, diced and repeatedly revised to appeal to this key demographic. Or “demo”, as the cool kids would say.
Now, from a marketing perspective, this youth aligned approach seems to make a lot of sense. But is there perhaps another undiscovered audience of Netflix? A group that loves to cringe and binge, but doesn’t fit any of these descriptions?
My mother – Nita Agrawal, 60, convent educated, ex interior designer, is a recent graduate of the holy trinity of technology evolution for parents – desktop Solitaire — to the iPhone 7 — to the Amazon firestick. I must also add that she is a long-time consumer of Mills & Boon novels and over 15 seasons of The Bold & the Beautiful which naturally make her content choices rather questionable.
But, technology is said to empower. And stories are said to inspire. And so, it wasn’t an absolute surprise to see her casually browsing through the ‘ROMANCE’ section on the Netflix homepage the other day. It all seemed rather harmless.
Mom, having lived through the raging 70s, naturally directed her first few clicks towards classic all American heroes like Tom Hanks, Bill Murray & that Billy Crystal. Things were predictably on point till Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, but then gradually took a turn towards the strange. You see, by then the Netflix algorithm (the jewel in the crown, the maths behind the melodrama, the altered carbon so to say) had begun to sense my mother’s fondness for sappy romantic comedies set in coffee shops in suburban New York. What followed then was a stream of daily recommendations that quickly escalated from Harry meeting Sally to them experiencing The Love Punch, starring a very bearded Pierce Brosnan. This rising courtship of intuitive technology and extremely mushy (motherly) impulses set the stage for a 2-month no-holds-barred-all-or-nothing commitment with misdirected B-grade romantic comedies. They were at first Ms. Matched, then 13 going on 30, then in Crazy Stupid Love, until the truth was finally revealed in He’s Just Not That into You.
I told her to take it slow in the first few months. But you know mothers, they never really listen.
What makes this story even more pleasant to narrate, is that while my Mother was swooning over Justin ‘bye bye bye’ Timberlake in The Love Guru – his karma is huge, she was mercilessly using my sister Adhira’s Netflix profile.
Why you ask? Well it was a simple matter of a full house. My subscription could allow only 5 profiles, and the 5 were well, taken.
Now this ‘co-profile’ situation wouldn’t be such an issue for any dutiful daughter, IF it hadn’t also corrupted Adhira’s own Netflix viewing history. So, for every episode of Black Mirror Season 3, my sister’s algorithm would be promptly challenged with a few hours of pouting Channing Tatum. You say you like to watch Abstract and BoJack Horseman do you, then can you explain the 89 minutes spent watching The Big Wedding starring Topher Grace (from that 70’s show) and Diane Keaton in lead roles? And it doesn’t just end there. “It’s a matter of my digital identity Mummy!”, I heard her say the other day. “Thousands of people are probably judging me by my Netflix viewing history, which is being sold to brands to target me with ads at important times in my life. I want to be sold Adidas sneakers Mom, the ‘cool’ Stan Smith ones with brown laces, not Lavender facewash and bedsheets from Fab India! This is a real problem.”
“No”, Mom sighed. “The real problem is Ryan Gosling. He’s eyes are just too dreamy on camera.”
This, I observed from afar, was textbook addict behavior. My mother had been locked in a spell of programmed compatibility, and couldn’t look beyond it. She was up till 4am on week nights. Her eyes were swollen, her back hurt, her BP was giving her a sinking feeling from time to time. The TV in my old room had become her bastion, and come 10pm post dinner, she could be found on the bed, with a coke in hand, wasabi peanuts in bowl and a side of skinny Ryan Reynolds for company. You don’t want to know which movie. It was really bad.
Bad enough, that the other day I received a strict message from my Dad (via Mother of course) to resync my Netflix account and re-enter the password immediately. It would be wise to mention that this exchange took place at 12:30 am on a warm, working Wednesday night. Apparently, it was absolutely necessary to finish Love Happens starring Jennifer Aniston and Mr. XYZ Whomever; a movie that most people in the world had sensibly chosen to skip. But not Nita Agrawal.
Luckily, like all Bruce Willis movies, some sense eventually prevailed and she saw the flaws in her viewing history. The movies were just versions of the same plot, the characters became predictable, the New York streets never changed. “This Netflix thing is not that great you know”, she began to say, disenchanted. “I don’t get the whole hype around it anyway.”
“You need to go beyond your comfort zone”, I told her frankly. “Stumble upon something new Mummy. Don’t be a victim to the algorithm. Explore strange new worlds. Seek out new films and new indie documentaries. Boldly go where no Mom has gone before! Like Star Trek.”
She disconnected the phone at warp speed. It probably wasn’t the end of the f***ing world for her.
A few weeks later, I got another call. “I’m bored. Tell me something new to watch on Netflix na?” she asked, as if nothing had happened. “Hmm. Have you seen Sacred Games Mummy?” She laughed. Of course, she’d seen Saifu by now. “Accha, then what about Lust Stories? It’s supposed to be quite nice.” “Saw it last night beta. You should find a girl like Radhika Apte now. She’s so sweet.” “Sure Mom. How about that Brij Mohan Amar Rahe?” She giggled. Apparently, Brij Mohan was her grandfather’s name. She gives it 2 out of 5 stars.
I thought about my new recommendation for a while. Maybe I can convince Mom to watch an episode of Rick and Morty. The bizarre family dynamics might put her off Netflix altogether for a few days, which in a way would be the perfect gift for my sister, considering Rakhi just went by. What more really can a devoted brother do than return to his sister full exclusive ownership of her own Netflix profile? (wipes tears)
Or maybe I should just recommend Homecoming King by Hasan Minhaj? It won a Peabody you know for tackling the tough immigrant experience in America. But more importantly, it also sounds like a strong, yet subtle enough hint to clear up my room (and my TV) before Diwali break arrives.
Thanks Mummy. You’re Unbreakable.