In mid-November, just two days before the US launch of the fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery, Paramount dropped a photon torpedo-shaped bomb.
For the first time, viewers outside of the United States and Canada would not be able to watch the new series of episodes on Netflix within hours of their US debut. Instead, the studio tweeted, “Internationally, the next season of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will now air exclusively where Paramount Plus is available in 2022.”
It took a few seconds for fans to spot the flaws in the plan: Not only would they have to wait months to air a show they thought they would be watching in a few days, but they would also have to subscribe to a new platform – which doesn’t. was not yet available where they lived – to do so.
So when it later emerged that the three previous seasons of Discovery would be leaving Netflix a few hours later, the fandom united in a collective recreation of the famous Picard face. Even the late course fix which ensured that Season 4 would be available in select countries (including the UK) via the free streaming service Pluto TV was not going to fill the void.
While the announcement and its timing could have been better handled by Paramount, the Discovery incident raised important questions about our relationship with television. In the few years that have passed since Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming platforms became ubiquitous, is there any chance that we take for granted easy and relatively inexpensive access to a TV from? quality? And, before we start complaining about the unexpected disappearance of a spaceship crew, do we first have to acknowledge that we’ve never had it so good?
The balance of power
It’s become a cliché to say we’re living in the golden age of television, and that doesn’t just apply to the quality – and quantity – of the product. While Succession, The Mandalorian, and Stranger Things are rightly celebrated, the biggest small screen revolution of the past decade has manifested itself in the way we consume it.
Ten years ago, before streamers took power, the premium TV market was dominated by cable and satellite services like HBO and AMC in the US, and Sky and the BBC in the UK. Many of the biggest and best shows were hidden behind a heavy pay wall, and if you lived outside of the US you often had to wait for them to materialize on a local broadcaster – if they didn’t even arrive at all. . Hacked BitTorrents became a reality for fans who for some reason didn’t want to pay for a subscription – or wait for their favorite show to cross the Atlantic.
Streaming changed everything. Gradually, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have created impressive catalogs of content that you can watch anytime. But more important than the TV riches on offer was their comparative affordability – for less than $ 10 a month (at least initially), you had access to more TV than any human being could ever watch. You can also walk away from the platform with minimal notice.
The “broadcast” model of streamers – launching many episodes simultaneously across the world – also influenced the way cable and satellite networks distributed their shows, with international simulcasts of series like Game of Thrones and Doctor Who becoming currency. current. Studios have finally caught up with the idea that borders no longer exist in the internet age.
Too much of a good thing?
The success of streaming platforms has spawned an arms race for our eyeballs. It wasn’t just that there was more television than ever before – a surprisingly high proportion was really, really good, whether it’s comedy, drama, or documentaries. Gradually, we got trapped in a state of perpetual fear of missing out (FOMO), as our friends, family, and the media bombarded us with suggestions for the next series that we simply have. had to look at.
When most of the praising shows were available on a small number of platforms, that wasn’t particularly problematic – as long as you had a subscription, the only thing stopping you from checking off those essential shows for your ‘à watch constantly growing ‘list was about time.
But you can have too much of the good stuff, and it wasn’t a surprise when the big studios realized they could be the gatekeepers as well as the creators of content. As soon as Disney Plus, HBO Max (WarnerMedia), Paramount Plus, and Peacock (NBC Universal) came into being, the ever-growing number of must-see TVs inevitably expanded into more services. Keeping up the pace suddenly required a much larger investment, even before specialist platforms like horror streamer Shudder came into play.
The streaming model’s first genius – affordable, no-commitment monthly payments – suddenly became its Achilles heel. Viewers could quickly find themselves subscribing to so many platforms that they might end up paying more than they would with a full cable subscription package. Imagine a hypothetical, all-round superhero fan who wanted to keep up with Hawkeye, Peacemaker, The Boys, and The Umbrella Academy – they would either have to spend a small fortune on Disney Plus, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix every month, or choreograph a dance. mismatch complex between the respective services each month.
A shock to the system
While it’s tempting to cry foul when streamers “take” our TV shows from us, they only do what they are obligated to do for their shareholders: get the most out of their content. All the major players spend billions of dollars on programming, and they certainly aren’t doing it to improve the cultural landscape of planet Earth. Also difficult for viewers to admit, this is not public service broadcasting.
But, just as viewers who embraced color television in the 1970s wouldn’t have simply reverted to black and white, consumers now have the intrinsic assumption that we will always have what we had yesterday tomorrow.
Even looking past the frustrating, last-minute nature of Paramount’s Star Trek announcement, Discovery’s season 4 demise hurt because – after spending the last decade embracing the hours and the hours brilliant content at your fingertips – losing a high profile TV show overnight is a shock to the system. Having to wait over 24 hours for a blockbuster series to land on your shores now feels like an unwanted relic from another time: this isn’t how progress is supposed to happen.
Viewers have power, because streamers and broadcasters need us as much as we need them. Even in a market as large as home entertainment, audiences are limited – after all, there is a limit to what people can both watch and afford, even though there are billions of them.
If recent history has told us anything, it’s that fans will find a way to watch the shows they love, whether through official channels or not. It is therefore in the interest of content providers to give them a chance to tune in on terms that satisfy both parties.
We may have come to accept our quality TV, but that doesn’t mean streamers can do the same with us. Because no one can guarantee that even the most die-hard fans – yes, even Trekkers – will follow their most beloved shows to new frontiers.