Reflections on a Year of Binge Watching

I can be a bit of a luddite when it comes to television.  There are times when I miss the warmth of the cathode ray tube and the warmth of its colors… and its ability to render black and white shows and movies correctly.  I am certainly in no hurry most days to jump on whatever the latest trend is.

On the other hand, I do eventually catch up and have been at times in the vanguard.  We had a DVR from ReplayTV back before Tivo came and went as a generic term for the device.  With streaming channels we were able to start off with Netflix and Amazon on our PlayStation 3 when they launched.

But a combination of events pushed us into streaming as the default television mode at our house, and the first of those events was Baby Yoda.  Or Grogu, as we now know his name.

My wife wanted to watch The Madalorian, which was only available on the newly launched Disney+ service.  However, as the PS3 was days from going out of support Disney declined to build an app for it, so we needed another device.  I got a recommendation from a friend who works over at Roku and we picked up one of their Roku Stick devices in order to stream.

Then, or course, came the pandemic.  That meant we were home a lot more watching TV.  But sports were cancelled… my wife watches ice hockey… so we were looking for something to fill the void on that front.

And then there was Comcast/XFinity, which implemented a new compression algorithm which makes their HD channels look as grainy and dull as standard definition.  In comparison content streamed through the Roku look sharp and clear.

So from some point in February forward we have pretty much watched only stream on demand video content.  The only ads we have seen are the previews for other titles that sometimes get padded into the front end of shows on demand.  We have watched when we wanted to, often as many episodes in a row as we have wanted to, all from the comfort of our couch.

Based on that, I have the following thoughts.

  • No commercials is pretty nice

I would have underestimated this, but then we went to watch 60 Minutes live on cable to see the presidential candidate interviews and the commercials were interminable.  Even when we record things on the DVR I have to fast forward and skip back to get past them… and the cable channels are wise to this and have deliberately started injecting quick scenes from the show your watching into the middle of five minute commercial blocks to make you stop and check to see if you’ve missed something.  Not dealing with that at all… and not watching any commercials… has changed my tolerance level for them.

  • I still won’t buy pay-per-View

I like a service where you pay a monthly fee and can watch all you want from their selection.  And since that is readily available in the form of Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and even HBO, the value proposition of spending $6-$20 on a single showing of show or a movie when there are so many other options is a non-starter for me.  If it is special enough that I need to see it now, I’ll go see it in the theater… back when they re-open.  And the idea of “owning” digital content that the provider can take away from you later is ludicrous.  Comcast has literally screwed my on that with the one thing I bought from them.

  • There are too damn many streaming services

I mean, we knew this already.  But when you go to the Roku channel store and see the multitude of services available, you start to get a feeling of how big the eventual culling will be.  And even the big channels are eyeing some consolidation.  Hulu has had all of the FX stuff folded into it and it feels like Hulu and Disney+ might eventually co-join.

  • Finding things is hard

The most difficult part of coming to the end of a show is that you now how to find something new to watch.  My wife and I spend time comparing notes with friends and reading online articles about the ten best things to watch on this service or that.  And it is a multi layer problem.  The UI on any given service is quickly overloaded by too much choice.  There are multiple services and some content swaps between them.  And when you can find things, then figuring out what is worth the effort and investment can lead to decision paralysis.

  • I am torn on weekly versus all at once content

I complained in one of my binge watching posts about services that still dole out episodes once a week rather than just giving us the whole series to consume at once, the way Netflix does.  But for a popular show, where everybody watches on the same day lest they be beset by spoilers, or when everybody in our house is invested in the show, the once a week schedule still works out and becomes a point in time when we all get together on the couch.

  • We have been biased towards shows versus movies

For whatever reason our pandemic binge watching has been heavily biased towards series.  When we sit down in the evening a two hour movie is a commitment, but a show that is 22-60 minutes per episode is something you can take in pieces.  The irony here is that we almost inevitably watch two hours or more when we settle in after dinner, but we have this idea that a movie is too much.  Well, that and movie selection can be odd.  There is still a very old school, HBO monthly selection situation going on where movies come and go and are on this service then that for short stints.  So even finding a movie you want to watch on a service to which you are currently subscribed can be even more of a chore than finding shows.

  • I could cut the cord were it not for sports

Seriously, I could turn my back on the cable company… well, except for the fact that they are also the internet company.  But my wife likes to watch hockey and texts back and forth with her pals about the game and, while I can get the games on a stream, they are inevitably 30-60 seconds behind what is on cable and my wife hates hearing that one side or the other has score before it happens on our screen.

  • It really sucks when the internet goes down

The cable company is also the internet company… that is our only high speed internet option and we live in the middle of Silicon Fucking Valley… so when they go down or are doing maintenance, you get a quick and hard accounting of just how much you depend on that pipe for your entertainment.

  • It does not replace the theater experience

I know a bunch of people who are not at all sad that movie theaters are in trouble and that many may not open back up when the pandemic passes.  I still value the theater experience though, and miss it.  Seeing something on the big screen, like a James Bond or a Star Wars film, is not something that can be at all replicated in our living room, no matter how big of a TV we purchase.  Of course, most everything I would have gone to see on the big screen has been delayed due to the pandemic, so if there are theaters this summer I hope to return.

  • I still cannot watch exactly what I want on demand

I wrote a few years back that the most cost effective way to watch exactly what you want is to get an old fashioned, disks through the mail, Netflix subscription and get things that way.  That remains true today.  I saw that Geoffrey Palmer had passed away and wondered if I could watch some of the early things he was in, like The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Nope.  Not available.  I could get it on DVD from Netflix through the mail, but even the niche British TV streaming services like BritBox, GranadaVision, BoB, and Acorn, don’t have it.  There isn’t even a pay per view option, not that I would use it.

Others on this topic:

4 thoughts on “Reflections on a Year of Binge Watching

  1. bhagpuss

    That is such a good set of bullet points and so congruent with my own experience that I may well steal the headings and run a post of my own using them. Just in case I don’t, I’ll mention that I have exactly the same psychological issue over tv shows vs movies on streaming services now. Literally exactly the same.

    I used to watch a lot of movies, both on broadcast tv and on vhs back in the days of video as well as at the cinema and I had absolutely no problem whatsoever donating two or three hourts of my time to a film. These days that seems like a huge commitment that I just can’t bring myself to make… and yet I watch multiple consecutive episodes of tv shows every night now, usually totalling the exact same two to three hours.

    I used to put this down to playing mmorpgs. It was that hobby that basically stopped me watching any movies or tv shows for over a decade. I can’t really make much of a case for it now, though, when I’ve gone back to watching almost as much screen entertainment as I did before I started playing EverQuest back in 1999.

    As for working out what to watch next, my best source is mmo blogs, believe it or not. I watched Bojack Horseman because you mentioned it (and I’m sitting beneath a five foot pink flag of Princess Carolyn as I write this) and I’m currently half-way through Season 2 of Kim’s Convenience because you mentioned it. Also, Derry Girls was one of your recommendations. I watched Umbrella Academy, Tales from the Loop and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina because various bloggers mentioned them and I have The Good Place on my watchlist from a blog mention.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. zaphod6502

    @WIlhelm:
    Great post and echoes my sentiments perfectly. In Australia we are subbed to Netflix, PrimeVideo, Disney+, and a local Australian entity called Binge. We are lucky enough to have very good internet (1000/50 NBN fibre to the home) so it almost never goes down and our TV watching is almost never interrupted or unavailable.
    Between the above four we have a good choice if we want to watch shows and films legally. We only sub to Disney+ and Binge if there is a show we really want to watch during a particular month.
    Luckily I am not a sport watcher so I am not forced to sub to something I don’t really need or limited too.
    @bhagpuss:
    Lot’s of great shows in that list and we have watched them all. We also watch The Expanse, Star Trek Discovery, The Last Kingdom, Vikings, and Virgin River.

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  3. Redbeard

    I could cut the cord were it not for sports

    Ain’t this the truth.

    I’m a college basketball junkie, and from November through early April there’s almost always a game on that I can watch. Ohio Valley Conference, Big Sky, Mountain West, A-10, or Big Ten, it doesn’t matter. I’ll watch. But converting that to a streaming service? About the best I can do right now is ESPN+, and even then I’m missing a lot that’s shown on the regional Fox Sports networks (or whomever owns them now).

    But for me the biggest hurdle is internet access.

    I live in a city that has a MLB, NFL, and MLS team, yet I’m stuck with either subscribing to Spectrum (who has kinda/sorta fast internet speeds) or the local telco (who has fast fiber if you can get it). I currently subscribe to the telco, but in spite of years of cajoling and begging, our neighborhood still hasn’t gotten fiber. But we may finally have some movement here, because they were recently bought out by an international consortium and one of their stated goals was to get the region to 95+% fiber in a couple of years. Once they do, DirecTV is going the way of the dodo.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Binge Watch Sorrow 2: Electric Boogaloo | Indiecator

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