Opinion

Streaming has ruined TV. Could 2024 be the year we all finally snap?

Decision paralysis, generic TV, expense - what has streaming ever done for us?

Image: Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

As we tentatively creep into 2024 wearing a crash helmet and a weighted blanket, is it too much to hope for a little bit of positive change? Personally, I’d like to see an end to war and a photo of Donald Trump permanently locked in a padded cell – and one day I even hope to encounter a packet of Corn Flakes
that costs less than a car. 

But another thing I’d love to see change in 2024 is how we all watch TV. I mean, it’s not going to happen, but I really think it should. Why? Because subscription services have ruined the very low-key, pot-luck excitement of seeing what’s on. I love seeing what’s on! Is it an advert for a Revitive leg circulation machine with Ian Botham in it? Is it an episode of Bergerac? Or is it Flog It, live and direct from an antique fair in Whitley Bay? Channel surfing has gone the way of the ark, and instead you’re just streaming, opening apps and suffering bleak decision paralysis as you scroll through a million pointless rectangles. 

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The way we watch affects the way everything is made, too. Shows are now created to get your attention, so they have to be pitched at a certain sexy, overwrought, wooooo look at this level, without exception. Every episode of every show has to be a nail-biting cliffhanger and have a dramatic filter on it so that the actors look as if they’re about to die. It creates an atmosphere of try-hard desperation, but that’s how it has to work. We, the viewers, are no longer couch potato gogglebox observers – we are in the driving seat, and we have zero clue where we want to go.

The problem with most things is that they’ve asked people what they wanted and then given it to them. But you should never ask us what we want. We are idiots! If everything was controlled by my likes and dislikes, the world would just be one big ball pool filled with Wotsits. Would that be good? No!

We need guidance, critical thinking, proper leadership, quality control. We need to be surprised and delighted and challenged. But if you rely too much on what we’ve decided we like using our faulty, human, self-defeating brains, you’ll just get the same stuff, churned over again and again.

It’s like Spotify, which tries to second-guess your tastes, and by suggesting similar songs to the songs you already like, makes music into soup. Soup that tastes bland because you cooked it yourself. And it always, inevitably, gets fundamental things wrong. For example, do I really want my private playlists turned into an annual personality quiz, so my friends can see I’ve played All By Myself 447 times this year while crying? Not really.

Similarly, I secretly enjoy watching Flog It, but would I ever choose to watch 40 episodes of Flog It on Netflix? Christ, I’d rather go on a date with Ian Botham.

But it’s the financial constraints that make watching individual streaming services so ridiculous. As well as the BBC licence fee, I pay over £50 a month in subscription fees to watch basically what amounts to a few episodes of The Real Housewives and access to 60,000 films with Sandra Bullock in them.

The Apple TV/Now TV/Netflix/Prime/Disney+/ Hayu cancellation dance is exhausting, and whenever you unsubscribe, they seem to deliberately put something on you want to watch. And anytime you think you might have access to something forever, like a cherished film or TV show, it defects to another service you don’t have, or you’ve got to pay £17.99 to watch one episode of 30 Rock

Could 2024 be the year we all snap? Could it be the year they put everything together again into one big blob and call it the telly? I can only sit here in my crash helmet and weighted blanket, remote in my hand, and hope for the best. 

Lucy Sweet is a freelance journalist.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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