It’s the streaming generation’s most enduring problem: There’s too much to watch, so there’s nothing to watch. Is it time for something drastic?
One of the main difficulties of being a parent is not succumbing to hypocrisy. Screen time is fertile grounds for this confusion. You feel like you should regulate the time they spend, whilst full knowing that your formative years were spent glued to the box. So, armed with the assumption that streaming platforms can regulate themselves (and indeed, the censor within does its job), we leave them to their own devices. Just like we were, back in our day.
However, this assumption was undone this week via an unexpected question, as Kid A harmlessly asked me what a Furry was. So, after a shared, silent glance to my partner, we vaguely explained the world of animal-based kink to a nine-year-old. Afterwards, that YouTuber joined the blacklist of people he was no longer allowed to watch.
YouTube, of course, is the Las Vegas of the streaming world. While it has the blinking lights and the poker machine dopamine kick when new uploads appear, it also has the shady back alleys and pseudo-sexual nonsense that we attach to America’s capital of excess.
Back in 2020, in the height of the Momo scare (which was a hoax, aimed at children, perpetrated by a scary-looking woman), Keza MacDonald of The Guardian took aim at YouTube Kids, writing that “YouTube has been battling disturbing videos for years, but a 2017 Medium post by the writer and artist James Bridle brought the problem to widespread attention, kicking off a slew of stories about the various horrors that could be found through the YouTube Kids app. Frightening videos of Peppa Pig at the dentist or Mickey Mouse being tortured were appearing in searches. Weirdly sexualised videos of Disney princesses were easy to find. Supposedly “family-friendly” channels showed children wetting themselves, being injured or screaming in apparent terror – a father who ran one such “prank” channel allegedly lost custody of two of his children as a result…when you download the YouTube Kids’ app, it tells you as much in the introductory screens: ‘We work hard to offer a safer YouTube experience, but no automated system is perfect.’ No shit. The truth is that YouTube was never intended to be a platform for children.”
As a parent, you’re thrust between wanting to protect them and wanting them to enjoy themselves. However, the honest truth is that we’re dinosaurs, lumbering to extinction. What entertains us, doesn’t them. They have what we didn’t, a viewing experience entirely tailored by them. It’s akin to our older relatives insisting that their parlour is the superior entertainment alternative.
Interestingly, our embarrassment of visual riches is also starting to impact those who are trying to get rich off it.
As Forbes pointed out, “Virtually every media conglomerate now has a subscriber video on demand (SVOD) service available to viewers. Since November 2019 Apple+, Disney+, AT&T’s HBO Max, Comcast’s Peacock and Discovery+ have been launched joining the more established providers Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. In addition, a rebranded Paramount+ from ViacomCBS is expected to become available later in 2021. There are also a number of smaller SVOD providers, competing for content and subscribers, these include AMC+, Acorn TV and BritBox to name just a few.”
Forbes makes the point that the centre cannot possibly hold, as the impermanent nature of our attention extends to what subscriptions we keep, as we’re prone to pick up, cancel and move once we feel we’ve watched everything, or, if another service promises a more palatable menu. As a result, these providers are struggling to keep up.
Naveen Wall, Associate Director of Strategy/Media Lead at Movable Ink told Forbes that, “We’re going to see a sustained focus on customer retention, especially as consumers continue to reduce discretionary spending in line with economic pressures. And, while SVOD continues to grow, projections forecast a slowdown peaking in 2024 due to an overcrowded market and subscription fatigue. This will place increased importance in 2021 on building loyalty and driving adoption for the longer term, especially as 64% of consumers note they would downgrade or cancel a service to pick up another. The onus will be on service providers to stand out from the crowd with both content and also customer experience in order to retain subscribers.”
As modern problems require modern solutions, the Wall Street Journal has an interesting take, layered in boomerish drama: “If there’s too much choice, how about I give you no choice”, suggesting that we should abandon these platforms in favour of the humble television, to save us from the agony of having to make a decision.
The WSJ spoke to a 23-year-old nurse named Kyle, who had a streaming service choose for him (which was an endless loop of Degrassi: The Next Generation), and was so enamoured with being told what to watch, he took an entire day off work to explore this strange new world.
“Sometimes I never really know what I want to watch or what I’m in the mood for,” he says. “If I’m just dropping into the TV show, it doesn’t really give me that option to pick what I want to watch. It kind of takes that guessing of what I’m in the mood for out of the equation.”
Maybe that’s the key. Having nothing to watch, but having no say in it.