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The age of streaming: has the magic gone from TV?

Streaming. What started as a small idea at Netflix has morphed into an unstoppable entity, arguably becoming the main way we consume TV, films and even games. Whilst undoubtedly providing us with immeasurable freedom and choice it also comes with numerous burdens.  I am well aware that I am not the first to write on ‘the issue with streaming’, with many voicing concerns as to how it has ‘killed TV’ but it’s not hard to see why: the streaming model has undervalued writers, actors and production teams, evidenced by last year’s strikes. Original shows are often removed from services with little to no explanation. The consumerist culture that we live in has resulted in the creation of a hydra-like monster, with service after service being created in order to try and take our money. Consequently, this has resulted in the need for content to be churned out in a seemingly never-ending cycle. 

One may ask what the issue is. Surely this is a good thing? Why should we complain when we have so many options for entertainment? Yet this is where the problem lies; with the production of so much content, a lot of it feels hastily and lazily produced. Whilst watching Marvel’s Secret Invasion last year I found myself wondering whether I had become just another soulless automaton, mindlessly yet willingly shovelling bland TV into my brain. I realised I had become numb to what I was watching, convincing myself that the dribble in front of me wasn’t that bad, trying to assuage the guilt from shelling out for all of the services I had subscribed to. Secret Invasion isn’t the only show that’s left me with this feeling recently. The last season of Sex Education felt heartbreakingly desperate, and RuPaul’s Drag Race has grown so exponentially that it has slowly killed my enjoyment of a franchise that I once loved.

The problem lies in the very nature of streaming

Of course, it should be acknowledged that when streaming works, the results can be phenomenal. The streaming business model has led to the creation of some incredible shows, ranging from Stranger Things to Squid Game, and allows stories to be told that may have never been commissioned by terrestrial TV, all while giving us unparalleled access to a library of content from across the history of television.

So why do I still feel so overwhelmed? Despite new series of my favourite shows dropping recently, such as Queer Eye, For All Mankind and Big Boys, I’ve simply lacked the motivation to start watching. I casually put them off and tell myself I’ll start them at a later date (somehow, I still find myself confused at the end of each day as to how I end up watching a video of someone turning a $10 traybake into a ‘luxury wedding cake’ or Glee for the billionth time!)

I think the problem lies in the very nature of streaming.

Unlike live TV, streaming is available on practically any portable device. This means it is no longer necessary to be sat in front of the TV at a specific time; we can now consume all of this content at our own pace, according to our own schedules. Whilst this is extremely convenient, ultimately, it may have killed something of the magic of live TV. 

There was something magical in knowing that the entire nation was watching with you

There was a time when watching TV was a minor event. Even with the record button on Sky, the predominantly live nature of TV demanded that we sit down to watch, whether by ourselves or as a collective. You could sit down, knowing that people were watching at exactly the same time as you, facilitating discussion the next day with friends or family. Whether it was David Tennant’s supposed ‘regeneration’ in the fourth series of Doctor Who, One Direction on The X Factor or Nadiya winning The Great British Bake Off, there was something magical in knowing that the entire nation was watching with you. Now, we have to avoid social media if we don’t want spoilers, or hastily try to catch up on the latest episodes of a show, watching on our phones on crammed buses.

I am being slightly melodramatic. Terrestrial TV still gets people talking, from The Traitors, to Strictly Come Dancing or the final series of Succession.  Regardless, I cannot help but feel that it’s not the same.  Sometimes, it feels as though TV has become a burden, the consumption of content something to keep up with if one wants to remain within the cultural zeitgeist rather than something to truly enjoy and unwind with at the end of the day. But, we shouldn’t forget how powerful sitting down to watch TV can be.  Whether its with friends, family, or the world, there is something within it that has an unparalleled beauty. I just hope it hasn’t been lost forever.

Having said that, will I still be streaming something tonight? Yes. yes, I will.


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