📺 It’s A Strange New Streaming World

I’m an old(-fashioned) guy. I grew up in the world of a limited number of TV channels (2,4,5,7,9,11,13 plus a few UHF). I remember the early days of cable with Theta, the Goddess of Television, in West LA. I remember the first outings with Adelpha, and then DirecTV in the valley, and I’ve been a DirecTV customer for at least 15-18 years now. I had heard about streaming, but had never really played with it as (a) my computer wasn’t connected to my TV, and (b) I didn’t have an HDTV until recently. But with the recent pissing match between AT&T/DirecTV and CBS, I wanted to explore ways to get local channels, so I went out and bought a Roku Streaming Stick+ to connect to one of the other HDMI slots on my TV. This post is intended to capture my observations from playing around with the Roku stick and what seems to be out there. I’m not paying for any additional streaming channels yet.

First, there seems to be a different approaches to streaming, perhaps generational. Our TV watching style is either watching something we recorded on the DVR, or just seeing what’s on. Streaming seems to be great for the former, and “on-demand” seems to be equivalent to the DVR: watch it when you want. That’s great for “appointment TV”: going to the tube to watch something in particular. But for “what’s on”, streaming seems to … suck. If you’re not looking for a particular show, figuring out what is it out there across all the different services is hard. There’s also no equivalent to a DVR for a live stream — it isn’t even like the VCR days when you could schedule something to record, as there is no easy way to tune. There’s no VCR Plus for Streaming. It is really a different paradigm.

Then there’s my theory that you don’t save much by streaming. Especially if you want live channels, you’re needing to pay for the Internet, some live channel package subscription (typically about $50 a month), and then the premiums you want (at $6 to $20 a pop). Your total, although it will be divided across services so you don’t see it, will be around the same as the bundled packages.  One article I read said it best:

There’s more streamable content now than ever and even more ways to consume it; these days, we’re drowning in choices. Even so, streaming all that stuff looks a little different in practice, namely because signing up for a bunch of services can get expensive — fast. Besides, if you subscribe to more than, say, two services, it’s overwhelming to cycle through their various offerings to find something you want to watch. Having too many choices is exhausting.

Because of the convoluted nature of licensing agreements and the vagaries of corporate competition, what’s on Netflix is substantively different than what’s available on Hulu or Amazon Prime. Different still are the network-specific streamers, like the up-and-comers HBO Max and Disney+, and the more niche offerings, like Shudder, Kanopy, Mubi, and Criterion. All of them have the same aim, which is to lock up intellectual property to keep people streaming. It’s a lot!

And of course, for most of the services, any interesting content is behind a paywall, after a “free trial” period. So as the intellectual content divides across the providers (Disney, HBO, CBS, etc.), the best shows will go behind the paywall with the exclusives, leaving the free services with the shit. Each service will be out there wanting their small fee in perpetuity, but you’ll be paying so many small fees you’ll never add up the total. What this will lead people to is the model of:  subscribe, binge watch the shows you want, then cancel. Perhaps you’ll have a live package to augment things.

That’s likely the model we’ll take. Here are the channels we may explore and the reasons why. If there are other shows we should consider, let us know. Note: I’m not interested in shows I can find elsewhere on DirecTV, HBO, or Showtime (we currently have Choice Xtra Classic on DirecTV, which includes Boomerang, Chiller, and Paramount on top of Choice Xtra, plus HBO and SHO):

  • CBS All Access: Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, Below Decks, Short Treks;  Strange Angel; Good Fight.
  • Hulu: The Orville, Shrill, Catch 22, The Handmaids Tale. See also this list.
  • Netflix: Stranger Things, Gracie and Frank, Santa Clarita Diet, G.L.O.W., Fuller House, One Day at a Time (Remake, Moved to Pop), A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Family. Bathtubs Over Broadway. See also this list.
  • Amazon: Mrs. Maisel, Fleabag, Good Omens.
  • Broadway HD: Numerous shows.

Of these, the highest priorities will probably be CBS and Hulu for Star Trek and the Orville.