Modern Media: Are we slaves to streaming?

Jack Whitehead 24 April 2016

The latest BBC series to grip the nation, The Night Manager, opened my eyes not only to Tom Hiddleston’s (acting) range, but also made me somewhat frustrated; having to wait an entire week for the next instalment was more exasperating than episode four…  I recall my childhood with fond memories of patiently rewinding the VHS of my favourite Disney Classics. Now the buffering image fills me with impatient dread.

Television companies are starting to realize that it is going to take something special to guarantee people will sit down to watch at the broadcast time. Even the instant-streaming services are auctioning for Hollywood’s most revered directors to fend off competition. But have services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and iPlayer made us submissive streamers regardless of quality? Or has the easy access to a plethora of content forced rival on-demand services to compete for our loyalty, money and time?

Imagine this familiar setting: it’s the weekend and you fancy some alone “Netflix and Chill” time, (in the PG-rated sense). You don’t even need to get off your sofa to decide what to watch; pizza slice in one hand, you exert yourself by lifting a finger to swipe through an over-abundance of films and TV shows. Then you think, “I’ll watch Inglorious Basterds”. You exhort extra effort by typing in the search box to be greeted with the words no paying Netflix customer wants to see: “Titles related to x”.

Two hours later you realize the sad truth that you have wasted your time watching a film you had no previous desire or intent to see. The unfortunate irony is that it was probably being shown on ITV 2. As you scroll through the abstract and tenuously named genres on Netflix, including “Absurd Films” and “Exciting Films” to name but a few, it quickly becomes clear that the content can be organised into three categories: The good, the bad and the ugly.

Scrolling through the “Drama” row you find critically acclaimed films like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Shawshank Redemption standing shoulder to shoulder with Adam Sandler in Spanglish. Like Tinder, the more you swipe left, the further you stare into the abyss.

The greater guarantee of finding quality viewing lies in the originals section. Considering that there is quite a significant crossover in content between the two pillars of streaming services, Netflix and Amazon Prime, their original content is most prone to judgement. Both services have invested a great deal in securing A-list directors to ensure that they can compete in the instant-access arena.

On Amazon Prime, Man in the High Castle, a dystopian drama based on Philip K. Dick’s novel which imagines that the Axis had won World War Two, is online original content at its best. Boasting Ridley Scott as an executive producer, the Amazon Studios could sleep easy knowing their flagship original programme would likely be a success.

Netflix is not ignorant to this competition. Later this year, Baz Luhrmann’s first online series, The Get Down, a musical-drama set in late 70s New York, will be available on Netflix. In a statement, Luhrmann outlined his appeal to move to this modern media: “…the Netflix culture puts no constraint on creative possibilities.” That much is clear. Online streaming has no limits, but it needs competition to ensure quality over quantity.