Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Reasons I Ultimately Dislike Streaming
If I think back 20+ years ago when I moved into my dorm room for the first time, I suspect the ubiquity of streaming services would have influenced the way I arranged that room. Nevermind that if streaming were ubiquitous then, I almost certainly wouldn’t have had to lug a giant computer monitor and clumsy tower up there either, but let’s think more about streaming for a minute.
[LaBamba voice from Conan] In the year 2000 [end LaBamba voice] I hadn’t yet made the switch from VHS tapes to DVDs. So I had probably two boxes of VHS tapes to lug up with me to college. Yes, most of them were WWF tapes, but I also wanted the option of watching some of my favorite movies over and over again. My copy of Boiler Room made multiple passes around the entire floor because a) that movie is pure catnip to douchey 18 year-old white boys, and b) if you wanted to watch something, you couldn’t just click a button on your TV and cue it up instantaneously. You had to have your own physical copy, or, failing that, the resourcefulness to borrow one from some dude down the hall.
The downside is that if you were really into media – movies, CDs, books, whatever – that shit all took up a lot of space. Entire genres of furniture existed to support media storage. I asked for a backlit CD tower I found in a SkyMall catalog for Christmas in 1999, and it was probably my favorite gift that year. And before you ask, yes, they were alphabetized. I had a bigass shelf in my dorm room to store my VHS tapes and not much else. That space almost certainly could have been put to better use had streaming existed then. And like almost everyone else, I fantasized about the idea of having everything available to me all the time via the push of a button.
Well, it’s 2021 now. Streaming exists and serves as the dominant paradigm for consuming media content. And I’m pretty sure that I largely hate it. Here are five of my major (and minor) complaints about it.
The ads for the platform you’re watching… on the fucking platform you’re watching
This is a gripe primarily about Peacock, which is generally the worst over-the-top streaming platform anyway, but seriously, what is the thinking here? I understand the idea of inserting an ad for a new series I might not be aware of, but the whole network? Probably 1/3 of the ads I see on Peacock are generic awareness ads… for Peacock.
Motherfucker, I already pay money for this shitass network, I don’t need you to continue selling me on it. It’d be like if I went to the movie theater and the projectionist kept pausing the run of the movie in order to show me a preview of the movie I’m already watching. I’m here! I got it! You have my money! Transaction over! Leave me the fuck alone!
It’s fitting that Peacock acquired the license for WWE Network since WWE Network was the only other network I ever saw do this, and they did it constantly. You don’t need to tell me how to subscribe to WWE Network since the only way to see this nonsense fucking ad is by subscribing to WWE Network, which I’ve clearly already successfully accomplished because I can see this nonsense fucking ad which airs exclusively on this subscription-based service, you nimrods. Do I need to continue this circular logic any further, or are these ads like Turing tests to see how much of your audience is comprised of bots?
Special thanks to Peacock also for completely ruining WWE Network, but that’s a much longer post for a different time.
Netflix’s anxiety-inducing auto-play videos
Better pick fast or else whatever you’re hovered on is going to start talking to you! Will you want to watch whatever it’s hovered on? Hahaha, of course not, fucko! It will without fail be the next episode of whatever shrill bullshit your kids last watched or something equally obnoxious that you’d never watch in a million years.
And these come on after what… 2 seconds? That’s not enough time to scan the grid of titles to find (or more likely NOT find) whatever it is I’m looking for, so I gotta keep the cursor moving like I’m trying to prevent an overzealous screensaver from taking over my window. It’s an overbearing function that feels similar in spirit to the auto-play, full volume pop-up ads that led to the Deadspin staff to quit en masse and start Defector. I cannot recall ever making an impulse decision to start watching something based on an auto-play preview on Netflix, but would LOVE to hear if any of you have.
Worse is the fact that when my 5 year-old navigates the grid, she gets easily distracted and will spend minutes at a time watching whatever the preview is on a small corner of the screen. Even worse than that is when she stops on Big Mouth which looks like a kids show, but is actually one of the filthiest shows I have ever had the pleasure of watching. She’s going to watch this show eventually, but not at 5. Thanks, Netflix!
Traditional cable networks suck worse than ever now
I could go on for 3,000 words about why the downfall of traditional programmed television is a bad thing, but a) no one wants to read that, and b) programmed television ain’t coming back, so fuck it. Most of my television consumption is passive. I have it on in the background while I’m making dinner waiting for my wife and kids to come home. I’ll put on some sports on the weekend while everyone in the house is doing their own thing. It’s an easygoing soundtrack to life’s mundanities.
Thanks to streaming, now each channel is geared toward this endless scroll mentality. Do you like The Office? Good! We’re going to show it, AND ONLY IT, all fucking day on Comedy Central. Except Wednesdays because that’s when we show South Park all fucking day. MTV is the worst one of all since it’s now simply The Ridiculousness Network, centered around a show that was never really funny to begin with featuring three nincompoops narrating an endless episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
The point is, I never happen upon anything anymore. I got into the show Newsradio because it used to come on after WWF Smackdown, and I’m forever grateful for that happy accident. I’ve been sucked into numerous movies just because they happened to be playing when something I was intentionally watching ended. This is a fun method of discovery! And it happens less and less for reasons further explored in the next point.
I am now responsible for all of my own terrible viewing choices
I have an ongoing text message thread with three of my best friends, and we’re all bad movie connoisseurs to one extent or another. We had a long, thoughtful exchange about the Sylvester Stallone arm wrestling movie Over the Top recently because I had watched it in chunks over four days while eating lunch a couple weeks ago. I don’t regret watching Over the Top but I have some definite cognitive dissonance about the fact that I have a world of entertainment at my fingertips and CHOSE to watch Over the Top. On the other hand, I did not enjoy my recent revisit of Police Academy 3 on HBO Max, and I even less enjoyed the knowledge that I actively had to select it for play.
(And for the record, the only thing worth half a shit in Police Academy 3 in 2021 is any scene involving Bobcat Goldthwait. He is fucking UNHINGED in this movie and breathes life into the movie anytime he’s onscreen. The rest of the movie is lame sitcom contrivance, mild-to-moderate racism, and unfunny sight gags.)
As a podcaster, one thing I’ve learned nearly above all others about entertainment is that 9 times out of 10 people will choose that with which they’re already familiar. Music programmers know that the thing that causes people to change the radio station more than any other is not commercials, not acrid radio personalities, but a song a listener doesn’t know.
Our time is at a premium, and with 8 zillion choices at our fingertips, it’s easy to become paralyzed with indecision. Having to actually click on something necessitates a level of investment you can otherwise discard if it wanders in front of you like when Karate Kid III shows up on AMC some lazy Saturday afternoon. So going with the sure thing is usually a safer bet. Maybe I’m alone on this one, but I don’t care. Some choices I would rather have made for me. But mostly what annoys the tits off me about streaming is…
Perpetual availability is an illusion
Question: How many times have you thought about a movie you liked, wanted to revisit, and then wondered which streaming platform it’s on?
Follow-up question: Once you looked up which platform it was on, what percentage of the time were you annoyed that it wasn’t just something you could access for free?
A whole fuckin’ lot, I’m guessing! For me, I’ll get a hankering for something, and invariably the internet will say something thoroughly ridiculous like, “Available on Tubi for $3.99, or free for 90 days with a valid REI Co-op Membership Number” that makes you go, you know what, fuck it. I didn’t want to watch this THAT bad, I guess. S’pose I’ll just watched Chopped again since they’re probably playing a marathon of it on Food Network.
More than a decade ago Patton Oswalt wrote a piece in Wired called “Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time To Die.” In it, he talks about the dangerous path of pop culture toward something he christens “ETEWAF: Everything That Ever Was – Available Forever.” It’s a weird post-apocalyptic hellscape argument that he spirals into in the last third of that piece, but here’s the thing for me.
We have pretty much everything available at our fingertips virtually whenever we want it, BUT…
For a price.
For years people bitched about the Xfinitys and DirecTVs of the world gouging the fuck out of them, and probably rightfully so. But in so many ways, instead of paying one entity a ton of money, we’re dying by a thousand cuts with subscriptions to at least a half dozen services and still frequently get to pony up extra – $3 here, $12 there, $50 for the most recent AEW PPV – for the shit we REALLY want to see, and we don’t even get to own it anymore.
Hey, you like basketball highlights? You can own some, sort of. Then you can trade them or sell them for money, sort of. All we ever get to do anymore as a society is hold a temporary lease on the things we enjoy. Christ, I don’t particularly enjoy Microsoft Office, but I don’t even get to own a copy of that anymore either. I pay a subscription fee each month for the privilege of screaming at a Word document when I’m trying to merge a fucking bulleted list into a regular ass block of text, and the page looks like I dropped two hand grenades onto it.
In no way am I saying we should go back to the old way – we couldn’t even if we wanted to – but I am saying streaming is bullshit because what looks like a democratization of content distribution is setting us all up for an even more sinister level of consolidation.
And when that happens, I suspect everyone who still has furniture dedicated to the storage of media is going to look like a genius-level doomsday prepper. Because they will be the few not beholden to the whims of a vanishingly small cadre of power determining what we get to watch, how, and for how much.