Paywalls are a Good Thing

As we slide further into a streaming future and an increasing number of providers, more and more shows and movies are becoming locked away behind numerous paywalls and I’m… well, the natural thing to write here is that I’m obviously missing out massively. But I don’t necessarily think I am. I’m beginning to think its a question of liberation, an indication of the increasing irrelevance of franchises I once thought hugely important.

I watched The Walking Dead for several years, but thankfully gave up on it before its final seasons slipped behind the Disney paywall. I quite enjoyed Outlander for a few years, but fell behind before it too slipped behind a different paywall. Star Trek seems to be slipping behind a Paramount paywall, but other than curiosity regards how disappointing  Strange New Worlds probably turns out, I can’t say I really care. They should have probably done me a favour and put Picard behind that paywall so I couldn’t have suffered through its Season Two (unofficial subtitle ‘The Death of Trek’).

I’ve never subscribed to Disney+ so I haven’t seen any of the Marvel tv shows, or Star Wars tv shows, or some of the movies being put on there and nowhere else (except for those few movies that arrive on disc that I decide to take a punt on). It was a bit annoying at first, hearing great things about The Mandalorian, and a Boba Fett series certainly seemed intriguing, but as time has moved on, I’ve realised I haven’t missed them at all, and according to some reviews, I haven’t missed out on too much of any value/worth, either.  There definitely seems an indication that Disney making so much Marvel and Star Wars content risks diluting the value of those properties, and quality control seems to have definitely fallen to the wayside in the drive to ensure fresh new content pops up on the streaming service. And there’s the odd twist that there’s so many Marvel tv shows presumably linking to the films, that me not watching Disney+ makes the film themselves less appealing to me than ever. I understand back in the 1990s many comic fans gave up on the massive comic crossover arcs that required me them to buy comic series they wouldn’t ordinarily touch with a barge pole, if only because they couldn’t afford to buy them all. Is that happening with streaming platforms and franchises? Might it happen to the MCU too? You can watch the films but they will reference to series and events and characters one hasn’t seen and therefore make less sense? As if the MCU wasn’t hard enough to keep track of anyway.

Maybe I’m getting old. I have been increasingly diverted by older movies, such as the film noir that I have been watching and collecting (becoming a substantially large percentage of the titles on my shelving these days). They don’t show too many of those older films on the streaming services. Actually I find it curious, that so much regards these streaming services seems to be about genre shows, which seems oddly niche, considering streamers are after subscription numbers, and I would have thought that meant chasing Mr Average, not the geek sitting in the basement or up in the back room. Or did the geeks inherit the Earth after all, and nobody’s watching soaps or sitcoms anymore? Its just a bit weird. Maybe in an alternative universe everyone’s watching Westerns or cop dramas or something.

I’m not suggesting that streamers are the Great Evil – there are some great shows and movies being made, that I cannot imagine ever seeing the light of day through any other vendor- like Amazon’s The Boys or Netflix’s Stranger Things. But its true that the elephant in the room regards streaming services (and its not just Disney+ at fault here, as Netflix is as guilty as any) – is that to keep subscribers the services have to ensure a steady flow of new content for them to consume before they get bored and turn elsewhere, but it requires so much content that quality inevitably suffers. How many Netflix Originals turn out to be any good, never mind actually great? If Disney just made one Star Wars mini-series a year, would it enable them to make it at least consistently logical and honest to the franchises mythology?  I’ve heard things about that Obi-Wan series, how bad it is, from reliable people I know that have seen it, that are mind-boggling, frankly. Disney would have to pay me to see it, not the other way around.

There are many tv shows I would like to see, like Apple’s For All Mankind series from Ronald D Moore. But what kind of viewing figures does that show actually get, or indeed most any of the shows on these streaming platforms? How many people actually watch Star Trek: Discovery? A generation past made who shot JR or who killed Laura Palmer hugely popular discussions and as everything fragments that seems to be increasingly rare- maybe its impossible now. I’ve watched tv shows and been unable to even find anyone else who watched them at all, never mind anyone to share them with in conversation. Maybe that’s the result of paywalls, but isn’t that making much of its content irrelevant that would usually be what we used to call water-cooler television? Is that really a Good Thing?

6 thoughts on “Paywalls are a Good Thing

  1. I’ve read a couple of times lately that, despite all the noise that gets made about streaming shows, their viewing figures aren’t actually that great. You’ll see headlines about Netflix’s latest huge hit, but they’re effectively using made-up numbers to yell about stuff (top titles getting tens of millions of “views” in the first week, but a “view” = “watched the first 5 seconds” or something equally ludicrous). If you use data from more objective sources, it seems streaming still comes way behind broadcast in the ratings. Online conversation is all about those shows, but in the real world, ‘regular TV’ still triumphs.

    I’ve just cancelled most of my subscriptions, because I had so many on the go and I just wasn’t getting round to stuff. There’s a lot I’d like to see — stuff that’s both praised (e.g. The Boys) and more divisive but I remain curious (e.g. Obi-Wan) — but it’s not happening, so why keep throwing money at it?

    I will say, though, that For All Mankind is excellent and I think it would be right up your street. It’s like an alternate history version of From the Earth to the Moon, only ongoing and (obviously) fictional, so it can dig into the characters a bit more and stuff like that. I’ve only seen season 1 so far, but apparently it gets even better in season 2.

    1. In a perfect world, eventually these shows, like For All Mankind, would come out on disc (a very few do) if only to offer a non-streaming alternative and maybe add the benefit of informative extras. Yeah I know, I’m so Old School/DVD, but some of these shows DESERVE commentaries etc. Thank goodness the BSG reboot came out when it did: that Blu-ray boxset with all those featurettes, all those episode commentaries, its a treasure trove and simply wouldn’t happen today.

      It may well be that over time the streamers themselves drop content if only because as time passes, the number of people streaming the episodes becomes so low that it isn’t financially viable to keep them on servers or pay residuals (lets say in all of 2026 Episode 5 of Season 3 of Dark gets 245 views in a year on Netflix in the UK). What would happen then? It’d be a bit like the old Disney thing of putting films in moratorium for several years and only releasing them occasionally over time. Imagine it- ‘ for the first time in six years, for a limited six-month period- watch _____ ONLY on Netflix!/HBO Max/AppleTV/Disney+!’

      Ultimately, that kind of thing, or some more specific PPV element, might well come into play. Netflix are mooting a commercials-included option to lower prices, and there’s that imdb channel on Amazon Prime that does the same, so already one of the benefits of streaming (being ad-free etc) is falling to the wayside, and they are trying premium rentals for new films.

      1. I’ve wondered exactly the same thing about them taking stuff away to give it some extra value. I mean, Disney used to do it for a reason — it worked! Of course, that was before internet piracy — now, is there any point? Unless they were to feel there was advertising value to be had out of bringing it back. “Being able to get it any time (if you pirate it)” may be outweighed by “oh, I’d forgotten I meant to watch that; now it’s available again legally, I will” amongst the general public.

        But it would definitely be nice if more streamers realised that they’ve ‘won’ the war with physical media, and that the market for physical media is now almost distinct from the one for streaming. If you release a title on disc, I don’t think you’re cannibalising your subscribers anymore (at least not to any noteworthy degree). Netflix have already dabbled with licensing to Criterion, and Disney do still put their big movies (like Pixar) out on disc, so there’s some hope. Less so for series. I’d love a box set of The Americans (and there are extras ready, from DVD releases, or a series of commentary-esque episode-specific podcasts they did), but I think Disney own the rights now, so I guess that’ll never happen.

      2. I just thank my lucky stars I was able to buy Chuck on Blu-ray, importing each season from America, because that simply would not happen now. When I get around to watching that series again it’ll be only because I was able to buy the discs. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe any streamer has Chuck on its roster, and that was a great geek’s show, all sorts of pop-culture references and casting. Hell of a show. Nearest thing to it now is probably that Orville series and yep, that’s up behind that Disney paywall so I doubt I’ll be catching that anytime if ever.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    I entered a comment here a while ago, but when I use my normal email it detects that I’m a WordPress member and goes berserk, and the comment disappears into the ether.

    There’s a workaround on this streaming conundrum – you can just take out a subscription for a month and binge what you want to watch, then cancel it. I’m thinking of doing that with Disney+ to see Wandavision and Obi-Wan and a handful of other adult bits.

    The thing that stops me, though, is the amount of films on the shelf I need to get through. There’s no reason for me to watch either of those shows over of the stacks of excellent cinema that await me.

    And you know – those shows will always be there later. The whole thing with multiple streamers is the fear-of-missing-out thing, which is nonsense.

    1. Yeah, regards having great films on disc to watch… I have The Shawshank Redemption on a 4K disc that is just begging for the time to sit down with a glass of wine etc; what lousily-written series on streaming could possibly equal that night? Or for that matter some of the better titles in those Columbia Noir sets just begging for a re-watch, or the Criterions on the shelf. The Magnificent Ambersons, I’ve never watched it and that Criterion disc has been on the shelf for something like two years now! Good grief the shame. Wtf am I doing watching some of the shit that I do? The Man from Toronto? OMG. Is the thing with streaming that you just don’t even have to get out of the chair?

      Sometimes I justify it that I have to save the good stuff for the perfect night when I’m not tired or its not too late or I’m not likely to get distracted/interrupted by calls. But all the same… The Man From Bloody Toronto? Wonder I can look myself in the mirror…

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