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I'm so fed up with streaming platforms that I'm going back to physical DVDs
$60 a month or $720 a year. That’s roughly how much it costs to subscribe to the big five TV streaming services and listen to music without ads on Spotify. And that’s just at the basic level; if you’re in family plan territory, it’s easy to spend at least another 50% on top of that. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of money spent to end up staring at a screen and asking yourself: “Why can’t I find anything good to watch?”
If you can’t tell, I’ve fallen out of love with streaming services this year for a number of reasons. For starters, I can’t say I’ve been particularly impressed with the caliber of this year’s new “must-watch” shows. Reading online, I’m not alone in my disappointment with high-budget platform exclusives that have left many wondering whether they’re paying too much. Especially as several companies have increased their fees this year.
But that’s just a tangent to my real gripe; the market’s sharp turn to exclusivity has also made it too difficult to watch what I want.
Streaming used to be the height of convenience. Now it's a nightmare of exclusives, time-limited content, and price hikes.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve searched Netflix only to find it doesn’t actually have the film I want. I thought Amazon Prime Video had my back in those instances, only to learn I have to pay extra to rent movies that aren’t even that new. Re-runs on Disney Plus have been my saving grace, but there are only so many times I can watch the Mr Plow episode in one year. With content strewn across so many platforms, it’s never been harder to actually press play.
Thankfully, there are solutions to content paralysis. Google TV on my Chromecast feels more pushy than tailored in its recommendations, but there are more bespoke services available via Plex streaming aggregation or the popular JustWatch and Reelgood streaming guide apps. Even so, that can’t help with dismal show quality or spiraling subscription costs. The jokes about bundling everything together like a traditional cable service feel increasingly poignant.
It’s gotten so bad that I’ve found myself rewinding a decade or two and going back to DVDs.
Read also: The best media streaming devices you can buy
How many TV streaming services are you subscribed to?
Can you survive without streaming?
Unfortunately, finding convenient and legal alternatives to the big streaming players is not easy. The latest TV shows are increasingly locked behind platform subscriptions. You can’t watch The Boys without Prime or Andor before subscribing to Disney Plus, even if you’d prefer to pay by episode. Movies are, thankfully, better in this regard, with rental and legal download options aplenty.
Buying older favorites is still very doable, especially in physical form, but it’s likely to work out as or more expensive than streaming if you watch more than a couple of movies or shows a month. Furthermore, venturing to a store is not a convenient way to indulge in a sudden 90s action movie craving.
'Must-watch' shows are increasingly locked behind subscription requirements.
So what about buying content online instead? Unfortunately, that’s not much less frustrating.
Unlike some music services, you can’t simply buy a digital movie and take the file with you on any device. That would freak out the Hollywood legal departments, which insist on digital rights management at every turn. As such, you’ll still almost inevitably end up with multiple accounts across different platforms, each with its own hits and misses when it comes to content, new and old. Finding and keeping track of purchases is a nightmare.
Related: Can Netflix actually stay on top in the streaming wars?
If you’re in the US, Movies Anywhere can pull most of a burgeoning collection together neatly. But even that has its limitations in terms of movie studio support. As I’m outside the US, I’ve been giving Google TV a whirl and it’s OK, but it’s not a platform-agnostic solution and still requires you to install and open multiple apps. Basically, you’re out of luck if you’re after something seamless.
Outside the US, even buying new releases is a hit and miss experience.
Even if constantly hopping apps is OK with you, new releases aren’t cheap at $20 a pop from most platforms. But you can pick up some classics for just a few dollars, which is worthwhile. TV is arguably worse. $2.50 an episode for House of the Dragon via Apple TV is perhaps fair, but $24.99 per season of Futurama is a headscratcher when you can buy the complete collection in physical DVD form for much less. Still, I found Google Play and Apple TV/iTunes to have reasonable collections, at least. Although depending on your region, even these popular platforms don’t always have the latest or even some older releases available.
A non-ideal solution it is then
Having spent a few months attempting to untangle myself from streaming in the hopes of finding something more convenient, I’m really at a loss. I’ve managed to wean myself off subscriptions in favor of renting movies, mostly from Prime and via Google TV. It’s still not ideal, though, and I’ve all but given up on TV shows in the process. Most of the new ones are locked away for subscribers anyway, and I’m not playing that game anymore. Meanwhile, older shows are, in this writer’s opinion, too expensive to download compared with DVDs and BLURays.
The push to subscribe comes in many forms, some more subtle than others.
By way of a compromise, I’ve been up and down from the attic, backing up classic movies and shows from physical DVDs to a 10TB hard drive. Complete with painfully slow HEVC encoding times. With a home media server based on Jellyfin (sorry Plex, you’re just too bloated these days), I have the multi-device, single-app convenience I’ve been longing for, just without the massive collection. But that will come in time, I suppose.
Of course, the move to a home media server has the potential to edge closer to the slippery slopes of piracy. While I’m keen to keep paying for content, manually backing up purchases is a considerable time and hardware investment. Many in a similar position to me may be tempted to find a more, uh, convenient workaround.
Gaming and music industries understand that convenience is the key to keeping customers paying. TV and movies need to catch up.
And there’s the crux of this whole problem; many content providers still don’t seem to understand that convenience is the key to keeping customers paying. Whether it’s regional availability issues or tying content to apps and services, frustrating potential users only pushes them away.
Read more: Password sharing isn’t killing Netflix, streaming fatigue is
Gaming and music platforms have already shown that the best way to secure customers isn’t to lock down content and call in the lawyers; it’s to make paying for content more convenient than not. The current state of TV streaming platforms isn’t helping itself in that regard, and I won’t be surprised if those subscriber counts continue to keep investors up at night.