I have been binge watching TV shows and movies since the 90’s. First, I was going through my sister’s old VHS recordings from doctor who Y x-files, then collected and watched entire series of anime bit by bit from places like Sam Goody and Suncoast. In the early 2000s, companies started releasing series by the season instead of by the episode (at really affordable prices) and that made binge-watching much easier. Just going to the library to pick up a season of The sopranos It was so much easier than borrowing someone’s VHS recordings. Now binge-watching a show is simpler than ever, but the biggest complaint is that people have to binge for fear of spoilers and wish they could savor an episodic show.
I do not care about that. Spoilers are rarely a barrier to enjoyment for me and I learned long ago how to space out watching a really good show to maximize episodic thrills. No, my problem with the current binge model is that it doesn’t account for shared universes and all the weird observing orders that may be required. It also doesn’t take into account older shows that were often aired in a different order than they were produced, leading to weird story inconsistencies as characters are introduced long after they appear on the shows. And it seems like it should be an easy problem to solve.
Like Netflix, Disney+, Peacock, Paramount+ and whatever HBO Max and Discovery eventually become they wage war against each other to be the top streaming service in the US. They are frantically focused on content. Which wasn’t how broadcast wars were supposed to be fought. The idea was that streaming would give us more choice, not only in content but also in how we viewed it. Instead of new ways to interact with the shows we want to watch, however, streaming services are focused on acquiring new franchises or pumping millions into their established franchises. The concern for the real experience seems to have taken a seat in the third row of the car.
This has led to strange situations such as the lack of 4K and HDR support on a lot of content on these streamers, franchises that seem to migrate from one platform to another without fanfareeither HBO Max continues to ship one of the most buggy apps. Shakewhere people constantly subscribe to services and then leave when they’ve seen the content they wanted to see, it seems to have become such an expected part of the business for streamers that there’s little emphasis on keeping people on the platforms. for longer than the duration of the programs they wanted to watch.
But there are so many useful little tweaks that streaming services have refused to use that I sometimes wonder if any of the people running these platforms actually use them. This brings me back to how hard it is to binge on old content. If you want to see Star Trek: The Original Series you can buy it from something like Apple TV or Amazon Prime or stream it on Paramount+. In both cases, you’ll see in air date order instead of production order or in-universe chronological order.
seeing something like buffy the vampire slayer or CW The flash it is even more difficult. Those shows often include big crossovers with their sister shows, and unless you look somewhere for a guide to figure out the viewing order of those crossovers, you’re going to miss out on crucial parts of the characters’ story arcs.
“[P]The art of promise that came with streaming was a “better than cable” experience that enabled personalization and curation that creates a more intimate connection,” Julia Alexander, chief strategy officer at Parrot Analytics and former Edge the reporter told me. “People watch TV series in different ways, chronologically, by release order or thematically, but the services don’t allow for this customization and it’s counterintuitive to what makes streaming so good.”
This kind of customization shouldn’t be a hassle. This is a very solvable problem for streaming companies because all it requires is custom playlists, a technology that has been around for a long time!
“Creating a more personal and intimate viewing experience increases satisfaction and makes the inherent value of a platform more obvious, which can help increase retention,” Alexander said. “As businesses compete to hold customers’ attention month after month, enabling more personalized curation is very helpful, and with very little effort.”
However, despite what should be a relatively low increase, streamers actually haven’t. It feels so weird that you can’t choose to watch Star Trek: The Original Series in a fan-preferred order rather than airdate order that features some of the series’ more macho and sexist episodes rather than the more cerebral ones that made the show so enduring. That order was selected nearly 60 years ago by a group of executives who were scared of the sci-fi show and wanted to attract people with bikini-clad alien ladies and gods who like to fist fight.
The Star Wars universe is another that could benefit from playlists that allow you to watch content in the order set in-universe, rather than the order they were filmed. Are you supposed to watch? Only before or after the mandalorian? where does Obi Wan Kenobi fall against the bad batch either rebels or the next Ahsoka? Wouldn’t it be better if Disney+, instead of a Google search, could help you figure it out? Franchises like the gigantic Marvel Cinematic Universe, the little Snyder-verse, and even Grey’s Anatomy, Y 9-1-1 It would also benefit a lot from customizable playlists.
Some streamers, like Paramount+, already have playlists designed to mimic linear channels, playlists that queue up shows in the order you prefer shouldn’t be difficult. But streamers would need to stop trying to see how many prestige shows they can extract from established franchises and start thinking about what made streaming so compelling in the first place: choice.