I’ve been watching TV shows and movies since the 90’s. At first it rummaged through my sister’s old VHS recordings of doctor who and X files, then there was collecting and watching whole series of anime piecemeal from places like Sam Goody and Suncoast. In the early 2000s, companies started releasing series by season rather than by episode (for really affordable prices) and that made binge-watching shows a lot easier. Going to the library for a season of the sopranos was a lot easier than asking to borrow someone’s VHS recordings. Now, binge-watching a show is easier than ever, but the biggest complaint is that people have to binge-watch for fear of spoilers and want them to be able to enjoy a show that is being distributed episodic.
I don’t care about that. Spoilers are rarely a hindrance for me to enjoy and I learned a long time ago how to watch a really good show to maximize the episodic tension. No, my problem with the current binge model is that it doesn’t account for shared universes and all the weird viewing sequences that might be needed. It also doesn’t account for older shows that often aired in a different order than they were produced in, leading to strange inconsistencies in the story as characters are introduced long after they actually appear in shows. And it looks like it should be an easy problem to fix.
With Netflix, Disney+, Peacock, Paramount+ and whatever HBO Max and Discovery finally going to war with each other to become the best streaming service in the US, they are frantically focused on content. That was not how the streaming wars were supposed to be waged. The idea was that streaming would give us more choice, not just in content, but also in how we viewed that content. But instead of new ways of interacting with the shows, we want to see the streaming services focus on acquiring new franchises or pumping millions into their established franchises. Concerns about the actual experience seem to have taken place in the third row of the car.
This has led to weird situations like the lack of 4K and HDR support in much of the content from these streamers, franchises that seem to migrate from platform to platform without fanfare, or HBO Max continues to deliver one of the most buggy apps out there. . Churn, where people constantly subscribe to services and then drop them when they’ve watched the content they wanted to watch, seems to have become such an expected part of the business for streamers that there’s little emphasis on actually keeping people. on the platforms longer than the duration of the shows they wanted to watch.
But there are so many nifty little tweaks that streaming services have refused to use that sometimes I wonder if any of the people who use these platforms actually use them. This brings me back to how hard it is to binge older content. If you want to watch Star Trek: The Original Series you can buy it from something like Apple TV or Amazon Prime or stream it on Paramount+. In either case, you watch the universe in order of air date rather than production order or chronological order.
Watching something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or CWs The flash is even more difficult. Those shows often feature major crossovers with their sibling shows and unless you pull out a guide somewhere to figure out the viewing order of those crossovers, you’ll find yourself missing crucial parts of the characters’ storylines.
†[P]The art of promise that came with streaming was a “better than cable” experience that allowed for personalization and management that created a more intimate connection,” Julia Alexander, Director of Strategy at Parrot Analytics and former roadside reporter told me. “People watch TV shows in different ways, chronologically, release order or thematically — but services don’t allow this personalization, and it’s counterintuitive to what makes streaming so great.”
This kind of personalization shouldn’t be a hassle. This is a very solvable problem for streaming companies as it only requires custom playlists – a technology that has been around for a long time!
“Creating a more personalized, intimate viewing experience increases satisfaction and makes the inherent value of a platform more apparent, which can help increase retention,” said Alexander. “As companies compete each month to capture customer attention, allowing for more personalized curation goes a long way — and with so little effort.”
But despite what should be a relatively low lift, the streamers haven’t really done it. It feels really weird that you can’t choose to watch Star Trek: The Original Series in an order favored by fans rather than the air date order that frontloads some of the most macho and sexist episodes of the series rather than the more cerebral episodes that made the show so enduring. That order was chosen nearly 60 years ago by a bunch of execs who feared the science fiction show and wanted to seduce people with alien ladies in bikinis and gods who love to engage in fistfights.
The Star Wars universe is another universe that could benefit from playlists that let you watch content in the order set in the universe, rather than the order they were filmed. Look at this? Solo before or after The Mandalorian† Where does Obi-Wan Kenobi disappoint The Bad Party or rebels or the coming Ahsoka? Wouldn’t it be nicer if Disney+, instead of a Google search, could help you figure that out? Franchises such as the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe, the smaller Snyder-verse and even Grey’s Anatomy, and 9-1-1 would also benefit a lot from customizable playlists.
Since some streamers, like Paramount+, already have playlists designed to mimic linear channels, it shouldn’t be difficult to create playlists that put the shows in the order you want. But it would require streamers to stop trying to see how many prestige shows they can mine from established franchises and start thinking about what made streaming so appealing to start with: choice.