The Problem With Streaming Television and Movies

The other night I was looking to watch the movie “Cherry.” This is a movie starring Tom Holland, directed by the Russo Brothers (of Avengers fame), based on a book written by Nico Walker.

There were many reviews for the movie, most of them negative. Which made me want to watch it. I looked to see if it was available, and learned that it was in the theaters — which I am not going to these days (*cough* Covid-19 *cough*). It was also available on Apple TV.

I subscribe to Apple TV, so I figured I could put it on, but then I thought that I might also like to watch Nomadland, which I recall was available at some point or another on Amazon — or at least I thought it was, because I had seen Frances McDormand’s face on Prime or somewhere.

To be honest, I can’t really remember why I thought Nomadland was available on Prime. Maybe it never was. And Cherry, how would I know it was on Apple TV if I didn’t go looking for it, wondering how to watch.

In short, I am very confused. And I am certain that I am not alone. Between HBO Max, Prime, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu — it’s a dizzying number of apps that I have to click through just to figure out who has got what movie/TV show and for how long. A lot of times I spend a half hour trying to find the thing I’m looking for, and just as soon as I find it, turn the TV off.

This is not the future that streaming promised. Or, even a future that is a good one. I am in the minority, for sure, in that I can afford to pay for all these apps. Most people either don’t want to, or simply can’t. And that’s fine, all programming is not made to be equal; HBO was a premium product, even on cable.

But cable, for as bad as everyone thought it was, actually offered a lot. Where I live, it was about a hundred dollars for a basic cable package, and with that you got a couple hundred channels. Most of the channels you didn’t watch, but occasionally you did something called Channel Surf, which was the old school equivalent of doom scrolling.

Channel Surfing allowed you to discover stuff you probably would have never watched before, but because it was there, you simply left it on. A lot of movies and television shows got popular as a result of channel surfing, because at the end of the day, when people were tired or bored, they turned the TV on and became briefly entertained.

There’s a dozen movies and TV shows that became classics simply because they were on TNT and TBS all the time. I’m looking at you Trading Places and Shawshank Redemption. When you didn’t know what to watch, you turned the channel until you found something. It was pretty easy.

Now, so much of streaming is an active choice. You have to click on an icon to view a thing, you have to even know where the thing is first to click on it, and it’s spread across a dozen apps that, even before you access them, you have to pay for. Every time I find myself doing this I think, this is good how?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just lazy. But, with Covid-19, and all the other stuff going on with the world, the last thing I want to do when I turn on the TV is work. And increasingly, that is what watching anything feels like.

So, my request is this. Take all the streaming apps. Put them in one big app. Give me a price for that. Maybe even reduce the price on the little apps so paying for the big app makes sense. And then give me a way to just click through it all live, without needing to go searching around for something to watch like I’m looking at real estate listings. But give me a search function, too, because this is the 21st century and, well, why not.


Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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