With the writer’s strike ongoing, I’ve been wondering about the present and the future of TV because it’s been going down a sad path. And streaming or FAST channels aren’t to blame. Algorithms are. No one wants to take risks when a calculated move can be safer. But we’re all guilty of that.
Right now if I want to watch a TV show, I have a myriad of options, but the reality is I’m likely going to pick a streaming source. The show I want to watch is available now, with a specific episode, and even with a commercial or three, I’ve started it. I didn’t miss it. I didn’t need a DVR. And I’m watching it once, chronologically, and I’m done until I rewatch the whole series later as background noise.
But what if I wanted to watch OTA/Cable TV? You know, a TV channel on a TV? That’s really not possible anymore. Most stations now are knock-offs of themselves. The famous example is MTV. And I don’t mean “They don’t play music videos anymore” MTV. I mean “They don’t have new shows anymore” MTV. Literally. MTV has TWO shows they play. Ridiculousness and Catfished. And that’s it. That is their entire schedule. For years now. I just pulled it up right now as I’m typing this. And for the next 8 hours, it’s that one show, broken up by 3 hours of Catfished and 2 episodes of Jersey Shore. And that’s it.
We can talk about how PlutoTV or the other FAST channel providers are ‘fake’ channels where it’s just a random mix of episodes of Cheers and Wings, but regular TV is only that now, too. Comedy Central is only South Park and The Office. Every subchannel on OTA TV is dedicated to at most 4 shows.
I remember as a kid watching Nickelodeon obsessively because that was the only watchable channel for me, outside of The Price is Right when I was home sick. Nick had a steady stream of shows, blending from Nick Jr in the morning to Nick at Nite in the evening. But it was a new show every 30 minutes. If we were lucky, on a 3-day weekend, there’d be a marathon of some sorts. But now? It’s 100% Spongebob.
These stations are still making shows, sure, but they go straight to streaming. They’re not playing old or new shows. No one watches regular TV anymore except for people chilling in a hotel room. So it’s easiest to just have it playing the most popular thing on the station. Algorithms determined that. The most popular show to play at that time is the best one. And slowly but surely it ended up with only two shows left airing.
Now, MTV still plays movies occasionally in the evening on weekends. They even played all the Twilight films in a row. But out of order because the algorithm decided as such. It’s just bonkers now. There’s no discovery anymore. You can’t just leave on a TV channel for comfort anymore without it becoming instantly monotonous. It has to cater to “binging” now where you dedicate your entire life to one show until you finish it and move onto the next, like a hungry dog unable to know when he has to stop eating.
The only way to discover new shows is either by word of mouth or advertisements on the menus. You don’t just randomly end up watching a show because it airs after your favorite. Or end up enjoying a show because that’s all that was on at 2AM.
We have more choices than ever before, but now the onus is on us to handle that schedule and sometimes that feels like too much pressure. Everyone now challenges each other on what show you’ve watched, assuming that we’re all giving Netflix money every month or stealing a login. Think about how many folks you’ve talked to just assume everyone they meet has Netflix. And what’s scary is that they only talk about the latest show on there, OR The Office/Friends. And that’s the closest it gets to having a linear TV channel, I guess. But it somehow feels different now.
In the last year, anyone that was following along on Disney+ with the MCU and Star Wars shows ended up behind on them. Everyone is fatigued from too much Marvel/Star Wars series. It’s just a lot. And yeah, Asohka is good, but to appreciate it I need to watch 9 seasons of cartoons before that to enjoy episode 5? That’s insane. Granted, at least those shows are available on the same service to help catch us up, but they’ve raised their rates twice in the last year and it’s making me question what I’m paying for.
And now, if a show isn’t a runaway hit, it’s gone in a year. AND NO, IT’S NOT A TAX WRITE-OFF. Please, do some research before regurgitating the lazy answer. Streaming pays a fixed residual, so it’s only profitable if a show is a huge hit to keep it available. Pulling it helps save on future expenditures, not taxes. But that means now places are going to take less risks and put all their eggs in a single basket of whatever is uber popular. Look at the movie theaters right now. It’s either super hero films or Disney remaking films into live action.
Thankfully a lot of this is running its course. The strike is forcing the big companies to re-evaluate how they pretend streaming isn’t lucrative. Audiences are getting tired of the same MCU formula. And now with shows being pulled from streaming, physical media is securing its future just a bit longer.
I’m not dumb. I know we’ll never go back to the age where I could put on the Game Show Network and see more than just Family Feud. But I hope the strike starts a series of updates for streaming royalties that makes the companies reckon with the future of TV and scheduling and what are options are.
I’m not sure what the point of this rant was outside of me just saying I really miss when paying for cable TV was actually something that made sense to do. Thankfully MeTV is thriving by actually having good shows and a schedule that doesn’t look like a copy/pasted nightmare. All hail Svengoolie!