We Need More Theory, Less Chaos
If you find yourself unable to keep pace with the overflow of streaming TV and film — you’re not alone. The sheer volume of content — much of it screaming for our attention — is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.
“I can’t shake the feeling that the instinct of more, bigger, now has only exacerbated our worst impulses,” opines Jason Parham, senior writer at Wired.
“The choice is either stay plugged in and up to date on everything or get ridiculed in the group chat for not catching any of the [latest] references from the newest season of [insert show here].”
It’s just too much to be enjoyed, according to Parham, who questions if consumers actually need it.
He says, “Netflix and other major services are now learning that blind excess comes at a cost.”
According to analysis from Vulture on spring 2022 programming, “streaming platforms and cable networks rolled out more than 50 new and returning high-profile series” over a 10-week period. One executive colored it bluntly: “It’s almost hurting consumers at this point. It’s just too much.”
Big content spends, tapping emerging markets, and automated versioning: these are just a few of the strategies OTT companies are turning to in the fight for dominance in the global marketplace. Stay on top of the business trends and learn about the challenges streamers face with these hand-curated articles from the NAB Amplify archives:
- How To Secure the Next Billion+ Subscribers
- Think Globally: SVOD Success Means More Content, Foreign Content and Automated Versioning
- How Does OTT Gain Global Reach? Here’s Where to Start.
- Governments Draw Battlelines To Curb the US Domination of SVOD
- Streaming Content: I Do Not Think You Know What That Word Means
On top of the usual clutch of streamer subscriptions, social media apps, such as YouTube, TikTok or Instagram Live, are also offering must-see content.
“During the first year of the pandemic, Instagram Live became appointment TV, as users came together to watch the song-battle series Verzuz, or bonded over the eccentricities of influencers like Boman Martinez-Reid on TikTok,” Parham writes.
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Video streaming, Neilsen reported, now accounts for 25% of TV consumption, an increase of six percent from the year before.
Force-feeding, Parham admits, has its advantages. Streamers like Netflix and Hulu “that previously mishandled bringing international storylines” in the US have turned this around. Hence the phenomenon of Squid Game, the South Korean Survivor-style drama about class hostility that become on of the most-watched and most talked about shows on Netflix. A sequel is coming soon.
Audiences Yearn to Escape the Tyranny of Choice
By Adrian Pennington
FOMO is exhausting. Binge-watching, too. And the combination applied to the deluge of TV and media pumped onto streaming services is damaging to our enjoyment and the art form. The race to give us more of what we think we need is creating a vicious cycle where prestige drama can be played on fast forward, where there’s no time to absorb the experience, when everything is commodified as content.
Critics and audiences are sounding the alarm. Bo Burnham satirized the core idea with “I made you some content,” the comedian sings in the opening moments of his Netflix special, Inside. “Daddy made you your favorite. Open wide.”
We are being force fed content by streamers desperate to retain our attention. Much of the time in today’s (occasional feature length) episodic TV is simply padding. It’s not story.
There’s so much content that family viewing habits become even more fragmented. Once touted as a freedom for kids to find things they wanted to watch while the parents caught up with adult drama, the multiplying effect of being able to watch any sort of show from Friends to live sports has splintered the household into watching individually on different screens.
Even analysts at usually sober research agencies are pining for change; a back to the times when media was valued as something that was worth spending time with, in the company of others to share and talk about.
“Exercising exclusivity, delaying gratification, and playing with finiteness can be good for both consumers and media companies,” says Rob Gallagher, Research VP, Media & Entertainment, Omdia. “Anything is possible when it comes to content [including] provoking thought and debate about the detrimental commodification of art, the value of thinking beyond the here and now, and the nature of creation, possession, and time.”
Streamers have now cottoned onto the idea that not everything needs to be instantly available on demand in perpetuity. Disney series like The Mandalorian and Loki and now Netflix shows like Better Call Saul and the two-volume drop of Stranger Things are designed to keep more of us onboard the platform for longer than a month’s subscription binge watch.
But the wait can also make the drama something to be savored and chewed over in the home, among friends, in social media forums.
The word by mouth that a week by week episode release can yield is one clue to the success of shows like Yellowjackets and Mare of Easttown and why the brilliant The Undergound Railroad from Colson Whitehead’s novel failed in this regard by being dumped wholesale on Amazon.
The traditional concept of scheduling is one reason why FAST channels have also proved so popular. These online offerings provide linear streams of pre-programmed content, much like traditional TV channels.
“Typically, programming is made up of back-catalog TV series and movies but could increasingly feature original or exclusive content,” says Gallagher.
“Binge-watching is not the be-all-and-end-all for consumers,” he adds. “Weekly releases can turn viewing into more of an extended social event, making the general feeling of being part of something an integral and enjoyable part of the experience. Linear streaming, meanwhile, can take the stress out of picking what to watch amid the ‘tyranny of choice’ created by the vast and growing amount of content available on demand.”
For all that there appears an appetite for old media it may also be the case that people want different media experiences, not just more and more of the same.
Gallagher picks out social media as fertile ground, with numerous experiments in live-streaming and transitory content emerging and gaining traction (such as the Stories format pioneered by Snapchat and popularized by Instagram).
The vivid, 3D avatar-populated future of the internet opens up opportunities to tell stories in different ways, perhaps by linking the digital and the physical so seamlessly it becomes one.
The absurdist feature Everything Everywhere All At Once hit the nail on the head when it amped its multiverse hopping story up to 11 deliberately overwhelming viewers. But audiences have made this a massive hit precisely because of the desire to connect and related with loved ones at its core.
Yet Netflix’s recent travails, which saw it lose 200,000 subscribers last quarter, could be the start of a shrinkage. As The Hollywood Reporter explained, “A good portion of cuts have wiped out the family live-action film division, and the original independent features division… has also seen its ranks cleaned out.”
Parham welcomes this as a relief (minus the part about people losing their jobs, as he caveats). “By curtailing its efforts, it will give us all a fighting chance at watching its most inspired shows and films. All we want is a little time to catch up.”