Like everybody else on the planet who owns a TV, as soon as it came out, I got Disney+ and binged “The Mandalorian.” Yeah, it was pretty good. Maybe even great. But a nagging feeling in the back of my head that won’t go away tells me that things are about to get a lot worse. It’s easy to watch “The Mandalorian” when Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon are the only streaming services you’re paying for. Disney+ was only the first, and biggest, in a wave of new services. By this time next year, our wallets will be empty, and we won’t be able to watch our favorite shows or movies.
While Apple TV+ and Disney+ got ahead of the game, debuting last November, more are to come. Prepare for the fanfare-laden announcements of these services, dropping over the next 12 months: HBO Max (launching in May), Peacock (April), and Quibi (April 6), among others. For streaming newbies, HBO Max will have all of HBO’s catalogue, DC Comics movies, and “Friends”; Peacock will have “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation”; and “Quibi” is an experimental service that plans to deliver episodes in ten-minute chunks (‘quick bites’).
It may not seem like that’s a ton of content (only two of those will have widespread appeal), but if you think about the streaming services you already pay for, it starts to add up. At their most basic options, Netflix costs $8.99 (per month), Amazon Prime Video is $8.99, and Hulu is $5.99. Many of us already have some combination of those services. When you add Disney+ ($6.99) to the mix, you’re already looking at upwards of $30 per month, and that’s for the most basic versions. Plus, that doesn’t count more niche services, either for watching sports (ESPN+), prestige TV shows (Showtime), or obscure movies (The Criterion Channel).
Essentially, the problem is that there is no one place where viewers can watch everything they want to. You always have to chase the next free trial, the next streaming service, or your friend’s Netflix password to watch everything. That issue is only exacerbated by the fact that we’re living in the Golden Age of Television. There are more high-quality TV shows being produced now than at any point in the history of the medium. That creates the issue of too much content and not enough time. And now, those obviously lesser issues are exacerbated by the not-enough-money one.
To be sure, this is a pretty small problem to have (too many good shows, oh no!), and it’s better than having too few shows. It also means that more diverse voices are able to tell their stories on the small screen. Fifty years ago, when television as a medium was in its infancy, there were as few as three cable networks. When only a handful of shows were being produced, they were almost exclusively about straight white dudes, because those were the people that ran the industry. It wasn’t until within the past decade that shows like “Fresh Off the Boat”, “Black-ish”, and “Atlanta” began to tell diverse stories. And with talented creatives behind the camera like Shonda Rhimes and Issa Rae, TV is only set to become more diverse.
But how meaningful is it when people can’t afford to watch it? With all of these corporations making their own streaming services, the person who is ultimately hurt the most is the consumer. We have to pay more for less variety. When shows are divided amongst various companies, you’ll only have access to half the content you used to. And for people who are already struggling to afford one streamer, it means they can’t watch many of the shows that were meant for them. All of these incredible new shows that range the socio-economic spectrum mean naught if only rich people can watch them. What’s the point of cord-cutting if you just end up in the same place money-wise?
Boiled down to one line, you better get started rewatching all nine seasons of “The Office,” because by this time next year, it won’t be on Netflix. •