Michael’s Musings: United We Stand, Divided We’re— Streaming?

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It’s commonly believed, and rightly so, that we live in an extremely divided society here in 2019, especially politically. Yup, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the political divides which exist today aren’t among the most divisive we’ve experienced in a long time.

Similarly, we’re also divided by our home entertainment. Oh, I don’t mean by what we like and don’t like, but rather, by what we have access to. Specifically, I’m talking about streaming services.

There are a lot of them out there, comparable in price and quality.

For me, I have Netflix. I was on board when they only offered DVDs, and when they made the switch to streaming, I followed along and loved it even more.  The price is right, and they provide tons of movies and TV shows. Sure, there are things they don’t have, but they offer so much. I’m never going to run out of things to watch, and so I don’t mind that some of my favorite movies aren’t available there. Most of these favorite movies I own on DVD/Blu-ray anyway.

However, what I don’t have is what’s available on the other services. To get that, obviously, you have to buy the other services. Each. One. Separately. And so there’s CBS All Access, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Sling TV, to name just a few. And there’ll be more. For instance very soon Disney will be launching its own streaming service.

Take your pick. Or buy them all. If you can afford them. And that’s a big if. So right now we don’t have access to the same programming, unless we pay for it, which means we’re watching different things. No big deal. Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

In the old days of broadcast and network TV this wouldn’t have been a problem. Everyone in the nation could tune into their favorite programs if they wanted to because they were available to all, and they were free.

Access to television wasn’t part of my grandparents’ budget. It’s part of mine. And yours.

So, in a way, we’ve gone backwards, and whenever society moves backwards, that’s not a good thing.

And what happens if the same thing occurs with our news access? As more people move away from cable TV, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and since broadcast TV doesn’t exist anymore, access to news is shrinking.

Sure, you can get news online, but let’s say it becomes harder to do so. Let’s say people stop making the time to read online news, or their news feeds grow increasingly partisan and brief. Do we run the risk of becoming an uninformed society? Years ago, Walter Cronkite was famously associated with news coverage of major historic events like the JFK assassination and the moon landing. Can you imagine such events happening today but without news coverage? That’s a scary concept.

It’s also not realistic. Yet.

I mean, right now there’s no shortage of news outlets, but what if this changes? What if we become a society so enamored with streaming services that’s all we watch?

Now, I’m not arguing that technology is bad, or that we need to return to the “good old days of broadcast television” when there were only three major networks. I’m not saying that at all. Because given the choice between what streaming has to offer compared to television in the old days, I’ll choose streaming every time.

And that’s because our current streaming services are great. They provide tons of content which we can watch whenever we want. You can’t get a better deal than what they provide.

Except when everyone and their grandmother offers a streaming service, forcing viewers to choose what they want to watch and charging them to pay for more services than they ultimately need.

It’s a potentially bad precedent to put all the costs for the various streaming services on the consumer who I bet most likely cannot afford more than one or two of them, which then forces the consumer to pick and choose between them. You and I won’t have access to the same programs.

In the end, if they continue to pop up and charge customers for exclusive programming, streaming services could become more alienating than we bargained for.

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