Have you ever rolled over a movie on Netflix and seen it encapsulated in just three relatively empty words?
I thought I’d do the same to describe the horror movie that was the company’s last week.
Ominous. Psychological. Drama.
Netflix admitted it had lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter. It confessed it might try to squeeze money out of sneaky password-sharers. And, with a bowed head, it conceded it may introduce an ad-filled tier.
Scary. Disaster. Emotional.
Many might think this begins the demise of streaming. Some might discover irony in the idea that more traditional channels like HBO, NBC and CBS were disrupting Netflix by steaming toward streaming themselves.
Naturally, there have been suggestions that there’s nothing to watch on Netflix anymore.
Which, in my own case, certainly isn’t true. Why, this week, my wife and I have been enchanted by the entertaining vacuum that is the new Netflix series Anatomy of a Scandal.
Yet the story emerging from Netflix has made me consider the whole world of streaming and invited me to thoughts that can be summed up in three words.
Concerned. Subjective. Judgy.
What am I spending my money on? I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV+, ESPN+, Paramount Plus, Hulu and Peacock. At least those are the ones I remember.
Sometimes, only a credit card bill reminds me of all the streaming services that have slipped into my spending patterns.
Can we, then, drift through them all, concerned, and apply three-word descriptions for each? Can we conclude that one is the absolute worst? (Clue: We can.)
Amazon Prime: Best. Simplest. Priciest.
This is the one my wife and I watch the most.
You roll over a TV series or movie and instantly get some sort of brief encapsulation. We almost always find something we’d like to try.
But Amazon Prime does that sneaky thing of offering you its own fare and then slipping in shows you want to watch that cost you extra because they belong to some other, more minor streaming channel.
Walter Presents, for example. Or BritBox, Acorn and PBS Masterpiece. It all costs more, but it lures you into believing Amazon Prime itself has so many wonderful offerings that you’ll never get around to watching them all.
Which, perversely, creates an odd loyalty.
HBO Max: Alright. Entertaining. Annoying.
I’ve had my issues with HBO Max. They were mainly Comcast’s fault. On HBO Max, we’ve sometimes found things we’ve really enjoyed. Like The Flight Attendant. (Oh, come on. You loved it too.) Hacks was wonderful, too.
But try finding something new to watch and HBO Max is no help. You can’t roll over anything to get a description. It gives you two choices: play it or add it to your list. How can I when I have no idea what it is?
By the by last week, HBO Max executives admitted they knew the app was flawed when they launched it. Why, thank you.
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Apple TV+. OK. Rarely. Expensive.
There’s Ted Lasso, of course. I had to sign up to watch that. Two friends are in the show, and I like football of the soccer kind. Beyond that, I confess, I haven’t watched anything. That’s how many of the streaming services make money. You forget you’ve signed up. If a streaming service doesn’t become a regular habit, it becomes an expensive frippery.
In essence, then, what am I doing? What am I paying for? I mean to watch The Morning Show and Severance, then other streamers get in the way. The shame is mine for continuing to pay.
But now Apple TV Plus has Friday Night Baseball, because sports is what makes for more regular viewing, right? Talking of which.
Peacock: English. Football. Vital.
There’s no other reason to watch Peacock. As far as I know. It has the English Premier League, so I have to have it. It’s likely tried to sell me on other shows, via email. I’ve likely completely ignored them.
The same is true for ESPN+, replacing English with Spanish.
Paramount Plus: European. Football. Necessary.
Paramount Plus followed the Peacock strategy. It signed up European football. I’m sorry, I mean saacker. Therefore, one has to have it. Live sports make money. Every network knows this. Does Paramount Plus have other shows? Do I care?
Netflix: Consistent. Good. Insensitive.
Despite America’s foremost intellectual, Elon Musk claiming that the “woke mind virus” has taken it over, Netflix really isn’t so bad. Over the last 12 months, it’s brought us some of the very best things we’ve watched all year. Dix Pour Cent, for example. And the startlingly brilliant Sexify.
But we had to dig these out for ourselves. If there’s one surprising thing — to me, at least — it’s that Netflix is incapable of actually recommending anything we want to watch.
Mind you; it’s an enthusiastic email sender. It wants to know whether we’re enjoying a series, part of the way through. It wants us to finish watching something we started and really didn’t like. And it emails us about completely uninteresting shows that we would never, ever watch.
But is it the worst? Oh, definitely not. This brings me to the, um, winner.
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Hulu. Why. Oh. Why.
Before you snort too loudly, please remember that this review had a deeply personal base: Concerned. Subjective. Judgy.
I’ve always wanted to give Hulu the benefit of my many doubts. We signed on to watch Normal People, a series about miserable Irish teens having sex — only because I’d read the book. We returned to watch Only Murders In The Buildingonly because an actor friend insisted we see it.
After that, nothing. This should have been grounds for divorce.
But what’s made me scowl at Hulu are the emails. It’s not the fact that Hulu sends them. It’s one regular email that pains me.
The subject line: “Plan To Stream This Weekend? Start Here.”
I’m open and accepting. Please, Hulu, tell me what you have for me. I open the email. Hulu informs me it has Comedy, Drama, Unscripted and Crime. That’s it.
Please. Go. Away.
It’s then down to me to click one of those and begin the usual fruitless search. So Hulu has gone on Pause Subscription and been sent to the corner. But at least Hulu offers a pause. Netflix, for example, doesn’t.
My anti-Hulu actions aren’t just objectivity. They’re a symptom of a wider issue.
Too many of these streaming services just don’t have enough content that might interest us. They know they’ll have to keep raising their prices. They know, as Netflix has seen, that when they do, people wonder: “Hmm. What am I really getting from these services?”
And then customers realize that, exactly as with the cable cord they cut in an act of revolutionary zeal, they’re paying for what they don’t watch, not for what they do.
Netflix’s troubles are just the beginning. Please prepare for the future.
Thriller. Emotional. Dark.