17 Aug 2018

Has TV-on-demand become too good? [opinion]

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Has TV-on-demand become too good? [opinion] Shutterstock - Nicolas Maderna composite

We've come from the dark old days in the UK of three channels and broadcasts being halted at 12am to the sound of the national anthem. But with online services demanding our attention with ever better quality series, is it all now too much to bear?

There was a time, back in the dim distant days of the 1970’s, when there was only a choice of three channels in the UK and we often used to complain that there was nothing on. Then a bit later, with the addition of other channels both via terrestrial transmitters and satellites, there was lots on but nothing worth watching, (the lyrics of Springsteen’s ‘57 Channels and Nothin On’ waft through my subconscious). We’re in an age where, maybe just maybe, there’s too much good stuff available (I hate the term content).

My TV watching habits have changed drastically over the last few years. When I was office based, I got up in the morning, got ready, turned on some kind of breakfast news, and went out to work. When I returned in the evening, I turned on the TV, watched some news, drama or comedy and then went to bed. Sometimes I watched a movie instead, but this was mostly from a Blu-ray or DVD with the odd trip to the cinema.

Before my work life changed, I was already a Netflix and Amazon subscriber. Mainly I liked to kid myself that it was because of work, I needed to see what 4K streaming looked like with Netflix in particular because it really was the only way to get some 4K content in the early days. Amazon Video, well that just came along with my Prime subscription... eventually.

Then my work habits changed drastically and so did my viewing patterns. I went from being a terrestrial traditionalist to a streaming...erm...rhymes with hut, almost overnight. This started by watching series like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black. I found the availability of all programmes in a series at one time addictive, intoxicating and yes, it came with withdrawal symptoms, but like any addiction, these could be alleviated. On most occasions with new series’, there was a rich seam of content (argh!) on which to feed.

Breaks

During breaks in my working day at home, I would have a quick look to see if there were any bite-sized programmes to delve into. Netflix offered little and Amazon even less. Yes, they had plenty of long-form content but not much under 20 minutes to consume along with my coffee.

Then I got drawn into the elephant in the room... YouTube. Long gone are the days when I’d occasionally be sent a link to cat videos or dash cam clips hastily thrown together, which was my early exposure to the service. I eventually discovered that there were some real gems on this platform. Has broadcasting had its day? Is its younger, hipper and more relevant sibling more interesting? Well, in my case, the answer is yes. The amount of diverse content is impressive. Like the content but dislike the way it’s presented? Then you can bet there’s another similar channel vying for your attention.

Now I find that, after I get up in the morning, the first thing I look for are updates to my favourite content creators on YouTube. No broadcast TV for me any more, at least in the mornings. You can almost find anything on YouTube these days. Whatever you’re interested in, you’ll find someone else who has similar, if not the same, interests and has made multiple videos about it. How deep does this rabbit hole go? Very.

That’s not to say I gave up watching Netflix and Amazon. These two large attention sponges between them have soaked up a lot of my viewing hours and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, although the slow upward push of subscription costs may stop me.

No more traditional TV

The fact that I don’t see much traditional broadcast TV anymore got me thinking. The other day, I thought I’d have a look to see how many things I have on ‘My List’ on Netflix... gulp. More than 180 titles sit on this horizontal ribbon of temptation, each trying to attract my attention with their auto-playing trailers. About 50% of these titles are series and more than 50% of these are multiple season series. These figures are after I had culled some titles, thinking that actually there are not enough hours in the year to sit and watch all these, not because I thought they were bad. There are, for me at least, far too many good titles on Netflix and Amazon and more are being added weekly.

Yes, there is a lack of some big recent content, although sometimes it gets added when you least expect it, or when Netflix buys up a failing studio. There are some fantastic original titles and smaller films and series that I would have never seen in other circumstances. It’s a very personal thing, but I’ve been impressed by Goliath and The Marvellous Mrs Maisel on Amazon in particular; there are lots more. Exploring, discovering and sharing hidden nuggets can also be a great part of the viewing experience.

Recently, that term ‘Golden age of Television’ has been bandied about, referring to our current epoch and, personally, I mark the start of the age with the first season of 24. A modern large budget series with impressive production values, but when is it going to end? I don’t really want it to end, I’d love to watch all the series and films that I have on my watch lists, but let’s face it, I just don’t have the time. Even with the option to download and watch offline, there’s just not enough space in my schedule or my iPad and you can bet that some amazing new series will get released which ends up taking precedence.

So, consider this: are we able to watch everything that we want to, are there enough hours in the day or more worryingly, days in our lives?

Image: Shutterstock - Nicolas Maderna


Chris Foreman

Chris has been working in the broadcast industry for over 30 years, a lot of it as an editor, camera operator, sound recordist and troubleshooter.  He has an unrequited love of technology and a loathing of tomatoes.

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