Streaming came along just in time to rescue us from cable TV, the bulls**t business model that required us to buy dozens of channels and hundreds of shows we never intend to watch, just so we could have access to the ones we do. Thank god for Netflix! And Amazon Prime. And Hulu. And YouTube Premium. And CBS All Access. And Shudder. And ... wait, what the f**k is happening?
Streaming is turning into a baffling knot of expensive, restrictive choices, which is but one way that this model is starting to get kind of annoying. And then there's how ...
If you pay even a little attention to this kind of thing, you already know that Netflix is about to lose the Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney movies from its service. That's because Disney is starting its own thing, Disney+.
And recently, Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Iron Fist were eliminated from the Netflix lineup. And while it's normal for shows to get cancelled when they don't attract enough viewers or they're Iron Fist, it becomes highly suspect with Disney clearly wanting all this intellectual property under their own streaming umbrella. In other words, don't be shocked if these shows are reborn in some way on Disney+.
If your budget is limited and you're considering just switching to Disney+, please note that they apparently won't be nabbing their more R-rated shows, which means that if Disney+ does renew Daredevil, Vincent D'Onofrio's beautiful giant baby tantrums might need to go PG-13. Meanwhile ...
Just a few months ago, Hulu was a treasure trove of Disney movies. I need a monthly injection of Phil Collins' Tarzan soundtrack to survive, so Hulu was my go-to for a fix. No more. That may seem weird, because Disney owns a stake in Hulu, and will be getting an even bigger one after they acquire 20th Century Fox. What do they care how you see their movies, as long as they get the money?
Ah, but you're not thinking like a 2018 entertainment industry executive. "Why should the customer get everything on one streaming service when we can make them buy several?" They want to have it both ways, like a s**tty boyfriend who really needs a place to stay for the night, but is also bringing his ex with him.
Wait, once Disney owns all of the Fox properties, are they going to start yanking all of those off other platforms as well? They haven't said, but what do you think?
Recently, FilmStruck -- aka Netflix for people who think Hollywood should've closed its doors around 1952 -- got shut down. And while I joke about it, I loooooved FilmStruck. It was a great and necessary resource for classic cinema in an era in which fewer people are buying physical media or paying for cable channels like Turner Classic Movies.
Access to the greats of film history is getting stupidly hard in an era when everyone should have access to everything all the time. Even if you're not the type to have a top ten list of Ingmar Bergman films in your brain, this should bother you. It means there's something fundamentally broken about this model ... or that these corporations have unrealistic expectations.
Oh, and look at that. Between the time I wrote this article three weeks ago and, well, now, Criterion has announced its plans to start up another streaming service for its titles (minus all of the ones it got from MGM and Turner Classic.) And next year, this Criterion Channel will be available on the new Warner Media streaming service. It's a Russian Nesting Doll of monthly subscription fees!
The flagship show for the DC Universe streaming service is Titans, and the trailer for it put to rest any fear that DC would be returning to the Mountain-Dew-soaked nihilism of Batman v. Superman. I'm kidding. The trailer featured a lot of guns and blood and Robin saying "Fuck Batman," which made me instinctively reach for my DVDs of the incredible early 2000s Teen Titans cartoon.
This is a great example of the catch-22 these guys are in. Disney wants everything it owns under its umbrella because otherwise we have literally no reason to subscribe. DC shows, meanwhile, will still apparently be spread to the wind and not in a one-stop shop location. If their exclusives continue to look like this, who in the hell is going to fork over eight bucks a month for it?
If you've ever read my work and thought, "I like this guy, but I need to know what he thinks about Dragon Ball before I can judge him fully," you can check out some of my writing on the subject at Crunchyroll. However, recently, Funimation (a major anime distributor) suddenly split from VRV, a big bundle that housed both it and Crunchyroll. That's so Sony (Funimation's owner) can try to make their own anime service work. They did this despite the fact that it's nearly impossible to get people to pay for anime in the first place. Are you detecting a pattern here?
On a side note, did you know that most of the artists who create your beloved Japanese cartoons barely make minimum wage? Think about that the next time you balk at having to pay $6.
With Amazon announcing a Lord Of The Rings series that A) is only sort of about Lord Of The Rings and B) might not have the rights to a bunch of the major characters, we are officially in a spiral of streaming services raising their hands to shout "We too, are gonna be making some dragon s**t!" Everybody wants their Game Of Thrones.
Amazon is also adapting the Wheel Of Time books, and Netflix is making both The Chronicles Of Narnia and The Witcher into series (and not just a ten-minute short film about Geralt accidentally running into a powerful monster and getting eviscerated like my Witcher 3 playthrough went). I'm not saying these shows will all be bad, but fantasy is really hard to get right, and it's hilarious when it goes wrong. Based on the underwhelming Sephiroth cosplay look that The Witcher is going for, I have to admit that I'm setting my expectations pretty low.
This is also partly due to the fact that ...
Speaking of Game Of Thrones, for years, HBO's slogan was "It's not TV. It's HBO." It was the "That's not a knife. THAT'S a knife" of the cable world, and they were able to back it up with some of the best shows ever made -- The Sopranos, The Wire, Veep, and f**king Deadwood, to name a few. Now, however, they've been given a command by their corporate overlords to rapidly expand to keep up with Netflix.
That kind of throws a wrench into their whole spiel about not being producers of the cookie-cutter s**t that the rest of television is known for. Quality and originality is almost entirely about knowing when to turn s**t down. Hey, did you notice that right when Netflix was massively expanding its slate of content, they eliminated users' ability to rate stuff for quality? Huh, I wonder why they did that.
The whole advantage of streaming is that for the first time ever, you can watch what you want, when you want. It wasn't that long ago that only royalty could afford to have a troupe come perform a little play for them while they were on the toilet. It's all pretty miraculous, right up until you try to cross a border.
"Geo-blocking" is still a huge thing, due to international copyright issues, so if you're really into a certain show and you decide to travel abroad to, I don't know, pretend that beer doesn't exist in your home country, get ready to be TV-abstinent for a while. Sure, there are ways to get around it, but you don't want to be trying to dodge copyright concerns on your laptop while you're knee-deep in glorious Amsterdam.
Aspect ratios aren't just something film nerds obsess over. If a movie is being shown the wrong way, it literally cuts off part of the image. Important parts, even. Sadly, streaming services can't seem to stop screwing this up. As this video shows ...
... services like Hulu, HBO, and Starz are chopping up and squishing your favorite movies. Anything filmed in a wider aspect ratio is having about a quarter of the image sliced off from both sides, rather than displaying the whole shot with black bars above and below. And they're not even doing it gracefully, but just zooming in or hacking off chunks of it, as if the movie offended a medieval king.
Normally I hate when people complain about there being "too much" of something in entertainment, as it often comes in the form of a self-important person trying to maintain moral superiority over major pop culture franchises. ("There's both a Spider-Man AND an Iron Man? WHEN DOES IT END?") However, there are over 100 streaming services, and 95 percent of them without enough original content to justify adding another hit to your monthly credit card bill. Oh, they boost thousands of movies/shows, but most of it is the same as what you're already getting on Netflix/Prime/etc.
If you want to have full access to what's out there, it means you wind up paying more than your rent while also paying multiple times for the same content. When you go to pick and choose which combination of services offers the best value, you'll need a goddamned spreadsheet. "Wait, Hulu says it has Up, but I can only see it if I have a subscription to Starz?" Also ...
Look, I'd love for my dog to have his own streaming service (I'd call it "ElmerTV," and it would be the #1 source for dramatic Australian cattle dog content). However, I know that my dog doesn't need one, and I wish that was a lesson that Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat would learn. All have made dumb forays into developing their own streaming services, complete with original shows backed by massive budgets.
And Spotify wants to get in on the panic too, despite the fact that they're not exactly known as a, well, visual experience. Look guys, not every screen in my house needs a gritty crime drama playing on it.
Dead niche services like FilmStruck and Seeso (remember that?) are reminders of how quickly these platforms can go dark when the numbers don't meet expectations. This is especially true when they're trying to compete with juggernauts that are willing to burn mountains of cash.
Yeah, did you even know that Hulu is constantly losing money? Spotify is absolutely bleeding, Amazon Prime Video is a huge loss leader. YouTube reportedly pays $35.72 for every $35 subscriber to its TV service. And Netflix is raising $2 billion in investor cash to frantically create more shows, because the monthly fees from its 118 million subscribers somehow aren't enough to cover those costs. They're forced to do that to keep up because, in their own words, "Content companies such as WarnerMedia and Disney/Fox are moving to self-distribute their own content; tech firms like Apple, Amazon and others are investing in premium content to enhance their distribution platforms."
They sure are. Most of these services are arms of much larger companies, which are willing to lose money in the name of building up enough of an audience that ... they won't have to lose money anymore? You know, because then they'll be able to charge you more money?
But we as customers are already getting pulled in a dozen different directions, and we don't have infinite money to spend -- not when we could just be watching a guy crush things with a hydraulic press on YouTube for free. I don't know, maybe this all gets fixed in some kind of consumer-friendly way. Or maybe five years from now, we'll all be nostalgic for cable.
Daniel Dockery is currently using his Twitter to talk about the old X-Men: Evolution cartoon. It's really riveting stuff.
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