Note: I wrote this article in August, but I didn't realize it wasn't published until October. I kept the published date as it was, but if you didn't see it before well, that's why.
Are you familiar with a small streaming company called "Netflix"? If so, you might recognize their opening sound. And even if you don't, you might have seen one of their multiple recent press campaigns regarding this topic. From a recent episode of the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast on all the sound choices that go into their logo to their announcement that Hans Zimmer has worked on making it longer for cinema productions.
What none of those articles are saying is that this sound is also the sound of Kevin Spacey hitting a desk at the end of Season 2 of House of Cards. Yes, that House of Cards, the critically-acclaimed series that made Netflix' stock jump a 70 percent even before it started and put Netflix on the map. If I were a Netflix executive back then, I would be proud of having the series as part of my corporate identity.
If I were an executive today, however, I would be terrified of people forever remembering that my company's official sound, the one that plays before every show, was first heard in a scene with an actor that has been very publicly accused of sexual assault in 2017. So I can understand why someone would feel that a change is needed, and I'm all for it. No one is blaming Netflix (as far as I know) for not running background checks on their actors.
Having said that, it seems that Netflix has gone all the way to completely erase that any of this ever happened, in what has to be the most pointless history rewrites in some time. In the above-mentioned podcast, a sound engineer talks about all the sounds that came together to compose the current Netflix sound, from a ring on a cabinet to the sound of an anvil, with no mention whatsoever of Kevin Spacey hitting any desks.
Suffice to say, I was confused by this omission, so I dug a bit more and found a Facebook post from August 2019 from the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast official account, where they posted:
"I'm convinced the @netflix sonic logo was originally built from Frank Underwood banging on the desk at the end of House of Cards Season 2. BUT, I'm dying to know who enhanced it! I can't find anything online! (...)".
I can only conclude that the "it's a ring on a cabinet" story is technically true and a sound engineer has actually used it to enhance Kevin Spacey's desk banging sound, but they conveniently "forgot" to mention the relation between these two facts. One of the answers to this Quora question mentions that "The tapping on the table with his (Kevin Spacey) ring is associated with completing a mission or one of his plans being accomplished", which sheds even more light into why they were banging rings on furniture to begin with. And let's pray that the hand wearing the ring wasn't Kevin Spacey's...
None of this is mentioned in the podcast. As for the longer version composed by Hans Zimmer, it does not include the original soundbite at all. I believe that Netflix is going on a PR campaign to rewrite their history, has convinced the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast people to just go with it, and have so far been very successful.
And yet, I have to ask... why? Was it so difficult to come out and say "we don't want to be associated with this sound anymore, and therefore we are releasing a new one"? I honestly don't care about Netflix nor House of Cards (which I have not seen), but I am kind of annoyed at such a transparent attempt to hide their history behind a PR campaign. Or even worse, that they seem to have gotten away with it.
So, it's that time of the year again. Apple has unveiled its new ad-blocking technology for the latest iPhone, and people on the internet are losing their minds about why ads are good for you, and how this will be the end of the internet as we know it.
To which I reply: no, they are not. And good riddance. Don't let the door hit you on your way out.
I can't properly outline the mess that online ads have brought into internet users. Slower loading times, annoyingly loud sounds, erosion of our privacy, malware, and constant surveillance of our browsing habits. "But wait", says the marketer, "if we track you constantly, then we can sell you better stuff. If ads are tailored to you, then you wouldn't be annoyed by them - in fact, you would be grateful". To this, I usually reply by not replying, because arguing with someone who thinks I enjoy getting sales pitches is a person I don't bother discussing with.
The technical point is more interesting. If the ad industry where to collapse today, bringing down every ad-supported website along with it, the resulting meltdown is something I'd love to witness. Imagine the ad bubble blows up tomorrow. Thousands of websites disappear overnight. Panic. Chaos. Bloggers on the streets yelling "LIKE ME!" to random pedestrians. Desperate tweens crying in restaurants because they don't know what to do with their food pictures. But then we'd all cool down our collective heads, and realize that most of the stuff we enjoy is already produced for free, is not supported by ads, or both. Without the marketers, the internet goes on.
I still remember the "older days" in which advertising was restricted to a couple pop-ups here and there. And I can tell you: that early internet was anything but "dead". There was an incredible amount of content long before the advent of advertising. Which is why I cannot understand how anyone would believe that the internet needs cash to survive. There was plenty of content before ads, and there will be plenty of content afterwards, too
In a following article I'll detail replacements for popular websites and apps based on technology we already have, to show that ads are more a convenience than a necessity. But I want to repeat that a volunteer-run internet would be incredible. Would we lose several of those San Francisco startups burning cash as fast as they can? Yes. But I'm still not sure why should I even care. Marketers are free to continue spreading the notion that they are the saviors of the internet if they want to. But I'm also free to keep recommending Adblock Edge and Disconnect to everyone who wants to enjoy the internet as it was meant to be.
A final thought: The fact that the side with more money has not prevailed in this discussion makes me a little less cynical. If their rooms full of paid commenters have not squashed this discussion yet, then we must be doing something right.