The Streaming Television Bubble: Why It's About To Pop
I'm going to name eight television shows. They're all popular, critically acclaimed, or hotly anticipated, and I'd like you to guess what makes this group unique. And it's not that I've written erotic fanfiction about all of them. Ready?
Game Of Thrones, The Handmaid's Tale, BoJack Horseman, The Man In The High Castle, Twin Peaks (the revival), American Gods, Star Trek: Discovery, and My Brother, My Brother And Me.
If your answer was "Mark has ruined eight dates by not being able to shut up about them," then you are correct. But also, each is exclusive to a different subscription service: HBO, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Showtime, Starz, CBS All Access, and Seeso, respectively. If you want to legally watch all of them, it will cost you 69 (nice) dollars a month. Do you also want a specialty service, like Crunchyroll for anime, or Acorn for all your British television needs? There's another five to seven bucks. How about 20 bucks for a service like Sling TV so you can access the cable shows you still care about? And God help you if you're a sports fan, because even the cheapest major league streaming service starts at 20 bucks a month. Oh, and then there are all the other services that I only just remembered exist -- Crackle, Cinemax, non-American services with their own exclusives like Crave, probably eight other services that start with C that have popped up since I started writing this paragraph, whatever the fuck Epix and Fandor are...
I might have just made this one up right now, for all you know.
So hey, remember when streaming was supposed to be the cheap, easy, no-frills alternative to paying for a cable package? Cable packages that are now often cheaper than daisy-chaining a bunch of streams together? Remember when streaming was supposed to make your life easier by "cutting the cord," as opposed to forcing you to write Excel formulas to figure out what you need to pay for and when, just so you can keep up with water cooler conversations?
Television has always had rivalries fueled by exclusive content -- HBO has Oz, but Showtime has Stargate! -- but it's reached the point of absurdity. Look at the lists of exclusive shows for each existing service that some poor bastard at Wikipedia had to put together in lieu of contributing to human knowledge.
It's like television has been watching the gaming industry and realized that fans consider exclusives a fun debate topic instead of a huge pain in the ass. When gamers discover that they'll need two different consoles to play both, say, Breath Of The Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn, their reaction is usually either "Sweet! I can't wait to spend $600 on hardware, plus the cost of the games!" or "I can only afford one console, but getting into a long, technical argument about which is better will make me rich in experience." It's rarely "Hey, wait a minute, this whole system is bullshit."
We should have just admitted that we had perfected the medium years ago.
Further complicating matters is the fact that shows on these services appear and vanish at random like an unreliable boyfriend. Entertainment sites have regular round-ups of what's coming and going from services like Netflix and Hulu, because of rights issues or blood vendettas against Paramount or some vague rambling about being a "curator of content." This forces you to try a new service if you really want to watch that movie your current service had a month ago. Shouldn't curators of content not, you know, lose content? It's like if from April to September, no retailers could sell Blu-ray sets of Breaking Bad, and when asked why, they respond with a vague comment about the ephemeral nature of art.
There's now an entire industry that revolves around helping people sort out streaming nonsense. Want to figure out which of the available services will give you access to the entire run of the beloved classic Joey? Websites exist that will tell you. Want to simplify all of those streaming services that you signed up for so you could simplify television viewing in the first place? Buy a Roku, which is a box that negates the need to have 27 different apps on your computer, console, phone, or toaster to manage all your different services. In their words, "Your Roku account makes signing up for free trials, subscribing, renting, or buying fast and easy." That's great, but doing all of that shouldn't be fucking slow and hard in the first place. Don't like Roku? It has many, many competitors. They're competing in an industry that exists entirely to make a different industry comprehensible and useful.
Also, is it a law that all of these services have to have stupid names? You're not being whimsical by spelling words wrong, Sony.
Competition is healthy to a point, but it's approaching bubble territory. Yahoo's streaming service already went down in flames because everything Yahoo has ever offered the world is terrible. What happens to all the original series on Hulu or Amazon if they have to exit the market? We're supposedly in the era of Peak TV, when there are more shows than critics and fans can possibly keep up with. Streaming services are only adding to that load. If the system collapses and the number of active shows plummets to a more reasonable number, at least a couple of the 47 streaming services out there are going to suffer for it.
I realize that in the grand scheme of things, Americans should be more concerned with, say, fixing healthcare, but this is a classic example of how an industry that started off by making your life easier creeps into being headache-inducing nonsense. Streaming became popular because you paid a flat monthly fee in exchange for a simple, ad-free, all-inclusive experience. Now, serious fans have to combine streaming services into an expensive bundle -- you know, just like the expensive cable bundles streaming billed itself as making obsolete. And streaming has become too ingrained in our lives to offer the industry any incentive to change.
So you either need to bite the bullet or come up with a rotation system wherein you only subscribe to certain services for a month at a time to get the one show you want (and then hope you don't forget to unsubscribe). I don't want to get hysterical, but it's almost enough to make you want to read a book or, ugh, go outside. Let's try to find a solution before we're forced to resort to that.
Mark is on Twitter, and has a book you can read if you're desperate.
For more check out 4 Crappy Side Effects Of Streaming TV Nobody Saw Coming and 5 Reasons Internet Access in America is a Disaster.
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Clones are being used as suicide bombers in an occupied Tehran, a boy suspects that his loving parents intend to kill him on his thirteenth birthday, and a house is just, like, ridiculously haunted. Check out Mark Hill's book Little Lost Things!