The year is 2050. You turn on your television — or whatever new, futuristic viewing device that will be created by then — to watch your favorite show. There is an unspecified amount of streaming platforms containing a handful of shows, and you have to tediously search them for a program. Tired of foraging through the bowels of entertainment, you settle on a show you’re lukewarm about. Overall, you’re left unimpressed and disgruntled having wasted a night trying to achieve a leisure activity that should reasonably only take a few minutes, as I do every Saturday night.
Streaming services have dominated our lives for the past five years and the amount of time spent on them has been amplified over quarantine. They consume us just as much we consume them, which is as unhealthy for us emotionally as it is physically. In fact, the label “couch potato” is almost obsolete because it has been overtaken by the term “binge-watch.” I’m not complimenting anyone on that, trust me.
In particular, Netflix is the king of them all, with a strong mix of original content as well as popular movies and TV shows. Yet, the company has created its own monster, which has now become its own worst enemy. By taking revered shows and making them exclusive to themselves, they created outrageous demand. My personal favorite, “The Office,” is arguably as popular now as it was in the height of its production in the mid-to-late 2000s. Yet, after 2020, the show is leaving Netflix for Peacock, NBC’s new streaming provider that launched in April. While NBC promises you that their service is free, they will likely put “The Office” in its premium tier that costs $4.99, cutting Netflix’s price by at least 50% and sending Netflix closer to oblivion.
It’s a power move for NBC. Peacock also acquired “Parks and Recreation” as of Oct. 1, of which I conveniently had one episode left to watch. The popular comedy runs in the same circle as “The Office,” as it has the same style of humor and characters. In essence, Peacock took back what they thought was rightfully theirs and delivered a huge blow to Netflix, reinforcing the continual jockeying for a leading position amongst other streaming services.
As it is now, I am overwhelmed by the abundance of options. I know a family that subscribes to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Disney+, Peacock and Apple TV, all in addition to the live programming of AT&T TVNow. Forget watching a show, it takes two hours just to settle on one you’re interested in!
Streaming services are a detriment to our well-being as a country. In a world of instant gratification, we can now have access to whatever movie, program or video we want at our convenience, at the expense of interpersonal interaction. We are brainwashed into thinking that more technology is better. I’m here to tell you — it’s not.
Take the two shows above; at their core, they exist to entertain us, to make us laugh. You can’t put a price on that. I understand at some point programs have to become proprietary, but why not create a monolithic platform? Why can’t the entertainment industry reduce its availability to a few streaming services? If I could depend on Netflix, Hulu and HBO for all my viewing needs, I would be ecstatic. Why must I pay various fees to multiple companies for just one show? It’s preposterous and, quite frankly, not worth it.
Upon its inception, streaming was advertised as making viewers’ lives easier. They guaranteed not to raise the rates, broadcast commercials or put time constraints on when a person can watch (like cable does). Yet, somehow, I doubt many people are truly experiencing those effects. For example, if I wanted to purchase subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu, while maintaining cable and broadband, it would cost about $340 a month.
Having choices is a nice luxury. Programming would likely become boring if there was a single option. Yet at a certain point, the possibilities are too much and we opt for confinement within our decisions, which come in the form of “categories” (i.e. comedy, action, drama, etc.). Let’s be honest with ourselves: Who really watches more than a couple of shows anyway? There is no need for such a massive influx of entertainment. If people were able to survive with basic cable in the past, then we should be able to now.
For the moment, we are forced to spectate these arbitrary bidding wars between media corporations. Perhaps it will benefit us in the short run, but the long-term trend is concerning for our social well-being. In that case, perhaps the future of television is not as exciting as we think.
Sam Woiteshek can be reached at email@example.com.
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