It Used to Come in the Mail

by | Nov 27, 2020 | Living in the Future | 0 comments


Fox was still trying to make Fantastic Four movies, the iPhone had been announced and was a year from stores, the Oklahoma City Thunder was still the Seattle Supersonics, and Netflix had just launched a new feature called Watch Now.

Today, we call Watch Now “Netflix used to come on DVDs in the mail???”

This was the birth of the streaming era. Alongside the 2008 introduction of the iPhone, it was one of the leading indicators that the future had arrived.

I think we take it for granted now. Blockbuster Video is gone. Best Buy’s DVD section is a ghost town (or at least, it was last time I was physically in a store, but that’s a topic for another Living in the Future). The entertainment world is at your fingertips, and the only impediments are figuring out which service carries what you want to watch and whether it’s one you’re willing to pay for.

We’ve got paralyzing amounts of choice available. You can lose an entire evening just scrolling through movie posters, titles, and synopses trying to make a decision. What’s Hot? What’s Trending? What’s Recommended Because I Watched Breaking BadCasablanca, and Seasons 2-5 of Lost?

You can rewatch shows so obscure they haven’t been seen since the days of broadcast television. New shows come out faster than anyone can keep up. Entertainment options are expanding in all directions. In the early days of television, everyone watched the same shows. It provided a cultural identity. Now, we fracture off into ever more niche fandoms.

And innovation is still ongoing. I recently heard that Disney+ had a “watch remotely with friends” option, which seems fitting both for these days of self-quarantine and society in general. What will come next? My guess is some sort of curated “don’t make me think and just pick something I’ll like” feature.

The internet turned on the faucet of information. Streaming services have us drinking out of a firehose, both in the content within each services, and the sheer number of choices of services. Everyone and their mother (aka parent company) is creating a subscription streaming service with one or two pieces of exclusive flagship content, yet struggling to offer unique value beyond that. Like CBS All-Access luring Star Trek fans with Picard, but leaving little reason to stay beyond the 10-episode binge, considering Hulu’s huge Star Trek library and superior user interface.I think we’ve got a long way to go before the marketplace forces consolidation again. And since few families can afford to subscribe to all of them, plus cable (which is still the only way to watch many sports), we’re forced to prioritize who gets our hard-earned dollars every month.

I’d love to see services form, not around who produced the content, but around topics and pockets of fandom. A science fiction-focused service, for example, that shows FireflyStar Trek, and Dark Matter, regardless of them originating from Fox (still being subsumed by Disney), CBS, and SyFy Network (a subsidiary of NBC) respectively.

Or even better, have access to a universal viewing platform where I can choose content from any streaming service and have a percentage of my monthly subscription fee automatically go to the right content provider based on what I actually watch. After all, that’s how streaming music services work, why not visual entertainment as well?

But for now, here in the regular future/real world, I’m just happy that streaming services exist, and that we no longer need to clutter our home with a physical copy of every movie and TV show my wife and I want to watch more than once.

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