The Empty Promises of Streaming Services

Now, I'm old. Let me start with that. I was born in a time before the Internet, before DVDs, and even before VHS. I've seen a number of entertainment medias come in go in my 4 1/2 decades on this spinning rock we call home. I was there when Blockbuster was a big deal. I was there when Netflix first announced its mail-to-home DVD rental subscription. I was there when Hulu was still free.

My point is that things change over time but that not necessarily all change is good.

In the early 2000s, Netflix rolled out a new model for renting DVDs. Unlike other places that had brick and mortar stores that you had to stop at, browse around to find what you wanted, and then were required to return it within a few short days lest you wanted to be charged a bunch of fees, Netflix introduced the concept of using the Internet to rent DVDs online that could be mailed to your home for you to keep and enjoy for as long as you wanted for a nominal monthly fee. Even if you only rented 1 DVD a week through Netflix the subscription cost would still be cheaper than driving to a physical location to rent the same number of movies over the same period of time.

It was a new and interesting concept that looked to embrace the growing significance the Internet was having on our daily lives.

Eventually, Netflix's business model would be a key factor in Blockbuster closing all of its locations (aside from 1 I think that is still in operation somewhere out there). Even when Blockbuster tried to emulate Netflix's DVD-by-mail rental model the giant fell to the newcomer.

Netflix shook up the rental industry. It was change in a good way. For a small monthly fee you could rent as many movies as you wanted essentially and enjoy them at your leisure with no rush to return them to avoid additional charges. It was a concept that the public embraced fully and has enjoyed for for about 20 years now.

Sadly, Netflix announced earlier this year that it will be ending its DVD mailing service in September 2023. It will signal the death of an icon as the red envelopes will no longer be appearing in people's mailboxes.

But the death of this service was inevitable. Just as the adoption of the Internet made Netflix's initial business model a success, the continued growth of the Internet and Internet connected devices have since made it largely obsolete.

Back in the day, you could rent just about any DVD through Netflix. I didn't matter what studio had produced the movie or TV show. Virtually anything you could think of was available for renting. However, the birth of smartphones led to streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and the plethora of others that now clog the Internet connections worldwide.

When Netflix first rolled out its streaming platform the pitch was simple, "watch what you want at anytime you want." Netflix included a massively large library of digital content that could be directly delivered to your PC or Internet connected device. The options were seemingly limitless.

But then change happened again.

Studios and other companies began seeing the success Netflix enjoyed by charging people to stream content that Netflix did not produce. This got those companies to thinking that they should be making more money from their content. It was not enough that they charged Netflix a hefty licensing fee to be able to offer their content to Netflix's subscribers.

They wanted more.

Greed drove these companies to begin creating their own streaming platforms. Before we knew it, Netflix was just one of many places were people could subscribe to watch movies and TV shows. However, unlike the old days when Netflix and Hulu had just about everything you could want to watch, now studios and content owners had pulled their content from those "generic" platforms so that they could be made exclusive their own platform.

"People will pay us money every month just to be able to watch old episodes of Friends."

"The DC Universe is so rich and loved by all that it alone will support a dedicated streaming platform for our content."

I assume these are some of the thoughts someone at those companies had when brainstorming the notion of isolating and segregating everything into its own platform that users had to pay for individually and search at random to find what they wanted. It wasn't so much about how to let people enjoy the content these companies had created or controlled but how they could maximize their profits/income from it.

Today, what we are left with is a litany of services, some free but most paid via subscription, that have to be individually managed. What was left behind in this most recent change was everything that isn't part of those groups. A lot of old movies made by companies like Canon are almost impossible to find. The companies that owned those films are now defunct and their libraries sit in limbo, not owned by anyone or viewed as valuable enough to pay for to include in their platforms.

There was a time when you could get on Hulu and Netflix to watch just about every Chuck Norris movie ever made. Nowadays, I challenge anyone to find a streaming service that offers classic Chuck Norris flicks like Breaker! Breaker!, Hero and the Terror, or Silent Rage. The same thing goes for the classic Rambo movies. Not the reboots from the 2000s but the old ones from the '80s. I mean, these are classic movies, classic action flicks by icons in the industry even by today's standards. How are these films not available on the major streaming platforms that promise endless hours of entertainment?

Streaming was a change that promised unlimited access to the movies through the ages. In the beginning, that is pretty close to what we had. These days, platforms cater only to the new and the popular. Even streaming platforms are chopping their own content from their services for some reason. If I'm paying for your service to watch content you produced then why wouldn't you leave it there?

I'll tell you why. Greed.

Content requires disk space. Content delivery requires processing. Content delivery requires data throughput. Third party content typically requires licensing costs. Streaming platforms are all about operating at as low of a cost as possible to maximize income and profits from subscriptions. The more content they have to provide then the more disk space they need to pay for. Licensing costs and royalties to actors (and others) are paid per contract agreement and streaming output. By choosing content that is cheaper to license and/or includes cheaper royalties, platforms can offer "tons of content" but not "everything under the sun" to squeeze the most out of each subscription fee as possible.

I miss the days of being able to find damn near anything over a small number of platforms compared to today of not being able to find anything but the newest content spread across dozens of platforms. Since the invention of Napster and the whole "downloading music is piracy" days with Metallica, creators have abhorred sharing sites and apps like Napster and ShareBear but as streaming platforms reduce their offerings so less current or less popular shows and movies become harder and harder to find I think we will see a resurgence of these "pirate" services. People will want to watch these shows, to share them with their children, to reminisce with childhood favorites, to explore classic movies that their friends may have recommended, or just in general to expand their horizons and watch things they've never seen before. But in the absence of platforms that offer these flicks, people will turn to other sources to find what it is they want to watch.

Streaming started off with a promise to let us watch what we wanted when we wanted and from anywhere. Nowadays, that promise is slowly being eroded. Change dictates that new content will replace the old but back in the day you could still find the old stuff in terms DVD sales at retail stores and Redbox locations. Most major retailers only sell limited options for DVDs and Redbox seems to be dying like Blockbuster. This lose of retail options combined with the growing lose of content on streaming platforms will only lead back to the dreaded days of digital piracy.

Leave a comment