You’re Living In The True Golden Age Of Television. Enjoy It, Because It’s About To End.
from the history-repeats-itself dept
To be clear, the shift from traditional cable television to streaming TV has been a very good thing. Consumers had grown irritated with bloated, expensive bundles of channels they never watched, and customer service that was literally ranked some of the worst of any industry in America. Based on recent data, it’s not a trend that’s going to be slowing down anytime soon.
But there is trouble in paradise, and it’s pretty clear the honeymoon phase of the streaming revolution is over.
Netflix, for example, recently lost subscribers for the first time and Wall Street is pressuring it to nickel-and-dime its users. Popular programming is disappearing for no good reason, companies are starting to mindlessly consolidate, prices are going up, the fractured hunt for exclusives risks driving users back to piracy, and a lot of folks are getting fired as once-fat budgets tighten.
The Washington Post’s Travis Andrews puts it pretty well:
Streaming television is going through an existential crisis, involving the people who make it and the viewers who watch it. Its revolutionary zeal has naturally faded, as that initial wave of near limitless expansion, boundless creative opportunities and vast archival choices crashes ashore, after a spate of megamergers and a drop in new subscribers.
Wall Street wants what it wants. And what it always wants is improved quarterly returns at any cost. What usually gets sacrificed in this equation is stuff like quality, jobs, diversity, and customer service. With more ads. And as companies increasingly consolidate, the streaming sector risks looking increasingly like the stodgy, predatory, tone-deaf, traditional cable and broadcast industry it supplanted:
“The streaming services are moving more toward becoming more similar to the broadcast networks and cable networks that existed before,” said Tim Doyle, a TV writer and producer who has been in the industry for more than three decades. “They’ve suddenly come up with this great idea that if you put in advertising, you can make money selling the ads! So they’re basically just kind of retreating back to the things that are familiar.”
Industry insiders predict the next phase of this evolution is a slow degradation of program quality, something you also noticed with traditional television and the shift to inexpensive, often wildly idiotic reality TV programming:
Comedian Adam Conover, who has created shows for both cable and streaming services — “Adam Ruins Everything” for cable’s TruTV and “The G Word with Adam Conover” on Netflix — worries that “where the industry is going is something potentially worse than cable. That’s my fear. I think we’re moving there quickly.”
“The early promise of the streaming years was a fantasy and/or a lie. And we’re moving into an entertainment industry that is much worse for everyone. Everyone, including the shareholders of these companies,” Conover said. “The only people who are going to be profiting whatsoever are the very few CEOs at the top who make the deals happen, but everybody else is losing out.”
I think it’s a reach to suggest that the “early promise” of the streaming years was a “fantasy or a lie.” It’s pretty clear that things improved overall. There are more options, there are lower costs, and streaming TV customer satisfaction remains miles ahead of traditional cable TV. Most importantly, users can cancel and restart subscriptions after binge-watching available content, which is a huge shift from traditional cable.
But it’s clear that myopic executives, mindless consolidation, and a “growth for growth’s sake” mindset risks shifting things very quickly back in the wrong direction. This is what Wall Street does. The need for improved quarterly returns is corrosive. It means you can’t just sell an affordable, quality product people really like. You have to somehow cut costs and expand simultaneously.
The end result, as it was with traditional cable TV, is likely shittier programming, less choice, layoffs, and perpetual price hikes. The reality is you may very well be experiencing a high point in television history, so try to appreciate what you’ve got, while you’ve got it.