There’s something refreshing about a business executive who is completely honest. Even so I was a little taken aback by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ honesty in describing his business plan. I first read of his comments in an article by Tim Challies, but many others are discussing it. Like many CEOs, Hastings is often questioned about the competition. And Netflix’s video streaming service is now facing direct competition from a similar service from Amazon. Hastings downplays the competition from Amazon however. He sees sleep as his main competition. That’s right, I said sleep! Listen to how he responds to the ‘threat’ of competition from Amazon:
They’re doing great programming, and they’ll continue to do that, but I’m not sure it will affect us very much. Because the market is just so vast. You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. You really — we’re competing with sleep, on the margin. And so, it’s a very large pool of time.
He makes the comparison with another competitor they faced, HBO. And he shows how both companies have grown because they’ve just carved out more of people’s time and more of people’s sleep. It’s not a coincidence that he talks about getting “addicted” to their shows. Whereas in the past, people waited for weekly episodes of their favourite show to come out, now Netflix and others will release entire seasons for people to watch. “Binge-watching,” defined as watching four or more episodes of a show in one sitting, is something that 61% of Netflix users claim to do regularly. We may be the first generation of humans to literally entertain ourselves to death.
I don’t think Netflix is evil, but when the CEO admits that sleep is his competition and addiction is key to their strategy, let the buyer beware. I think that Christians need to develop a theology of leisure and entertainment. Let me offer some brief thoughts toward such a theology:
1. There is a time for everything. The writer of Ecclesiastes encourages us that there is a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1) If there is a time to laugh … and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4), then there is a time for leisure and entertainment. Learning to discern when and how much is the challenge that our culture poses to us.
2. God has designed a work-rest balance. Exodus 34:21 says, Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. It needs to be recognized that Netflix, YouTube, cell phones and tablets have the potential to take from our worship, steal from our rest and ruin our work.
3. When entertainment becomes our master, Jesus gets our left-overs. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus warned us to be careful about what we give ourselves to. No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Leisure needs to be on a leash and kept in its proper place or it will destroy a person’s faith. Does your entertainment get in the way of worship, fellowship, service, Bible reading, prayer or conversation?
4. Entertainment addiction really is a thing. The University of Texas at Austin conducted research and found that binge watching television correlated to depression, loneliness, self-regulation deficiency, and obesity. Catching up on a few episodes of Amazing Race once in a while won’t hurt anyone, but the symptoms of binge watching that the research cites are classic addiction symptoms. Galatians 5:1 tells us that kind of influence has no part in the life of a Christian: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
5. What we set before our eyes matters to God. David prayed, I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless (Psalm 101:3) and said, I will know nothing of evil (Psalm 101:4). Paul commanded, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8). Call it the frog in the kettle but the decline of Christian standards of entertainment is troubling.
6. A Christian’s entertainment choices should reflect the heart of God. Rest, fun, and laughter are all gifts of God. But God asks that we consider His will and show His values in how we pursue these things. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 the Bible says, So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. What I eat is a God question. What I drink reflects my faith. And how I relate to entertainment gives a picture of how I relate to God.
May God gives us help in enjoying His good gifts while not being seduced by the strategies of CEOs like Reed Hastings who want to rob our sleep and profit from our addiction.
In awe of Him,