Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

Streaming services suck now: how did we get here?

By Samantha Carmona, Sept. 19, 2023

It’s been a long day at school and after hours of lectures and homework, it seems like it’s a good idea to finally chill and stream one of your favorite shows online. But as you open your laptop you realize there is another decision to make: which service to use? Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+ or Max … it’s almost as hard as choosing a show to watch.  

The amount of streaming services, in this case for movies and television, has exploded in the past few years. While this expanding variety of services seems like it is offering consumers the chance to pick and choose according to their own interests, it really is just cycling back to the annoying and convoluted system of cable television. More and more options for streaming also means more and more money to gain from watchers. 

Initially, digital streaming services were rather niche, with video rental stores like Blockbuster or Hollywood Video still standing strong in the early 2000s. Netflix, before it became the digital streaming monster it is now, also had its own popular form of physical DVD rentals, which was often a godsend for me as a kid. 

It was rather hard to find my oddly specific movie tastes in my local Hollywood Video as a kid. So if I couldn’t find “Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea” there, I could ask my parents to search it up on Netflix, and if it was in their catalog, I could get it mailed to my house in about three days.  

That’s how Netflix was mainly used in my house for years. The only desktop computer being a work computer made it a bit hard for us to utilize Netflix’s digital streaming capabilities, and we couldn’t afford a means to stream it through our television. Cable was also going downhill, despite my parents deciding to keep it. 

But now my family utilizes several streaming services through several means. While my parents keep ahold of Netflix and cable, my sister and I also subscribe to Hulu, Prime Video, Max, Peacock and at one point, Discovery+ and Disney+ collectively.  

With all these options, it has become overwhelmingly annoying to watch anything. Deciding on which service to use has almost become as tedious as deciding which show or movie to watch. For me, sometimes it seems almost easier to return to cable and watch whatever pops up first — at least it uses less brain power than all that scrolling through rows and rows of options.  

The most frustrating thing for me is shows I liked are now spread across all these services. So when “SpongeBob SquarePants” left Netflix only to pop up on Amazon Prime, I decided to roll my eyes and just take advantage of my Prime student discount. Paramount+ couldn’t convince me yet, but it kept getting worse.  

It wasn’t unusual for shows and movies to come and go as Netflix’s contracts cycled through ending and renewal. Unfortunately, as time went on there were more examples of shows disappearing for good, only to reappear on mysterious new streaming services.  

For many people, the biggest blow came from the removal of the cult-classic television show “Friends.” The show’s rights were claimed by WarnerMedia for its then-upcoming streaming service HBO Max — now rebranded to simply “Max” as of May.  

“Friends” was one of the most popular shows for Netflix viewers, with it placing just behind “The Office” in 2018, according to a third party study by Jumpstart. This makes it even more frustrating that “The Office” would also be pulled from Netflix in 2020 to be placed onto NBCUniversal’s then-upcoming streaming service, Peacock.  

Two of the most streamed shows parted Netflix onto two new platforms, so if you were a fan of both, you’d either need to subscribe to both new services or make a potentially tough decision. 

It kept increasing as Disney and Marvel movies migrated to Disney+. Shows from Food Network, TLC and others under Warner Bros. Discovery moved to Discovery+. It seemed every major media group was itching to make its own platform, which for us consumers meant paying more and more for these subscriptions.  

At least it’s better than cable. There aren’t any commercials, and that’s what makes the money worth it. At least, that’s what people are telling themselves. 

Studies show the combined cost of most streaming services is equal to or even greater than cable packages. Many streaming platforms have raised prices, but also decided to include ads in their services, despite the main goal of most consumers to avoid exactly that.  

For example, Disney+ decided to raise its ad-free tier from $8 a month to $11 a month, with the $8 tier remaining as “Disney+ Basic” and supporting targeted ads. Netflix increased its subscription from $9.99 a month to $15.49, and also unveiled a cheaper ad-supporter version at $7.99.  

Yahoo Finance described the average cable TV package being $83 per month. However, they calculated a bundle including top streaming platforms Disney+, Hulu, Netflix and Peacock recently settled at $87 per month. This is taking into account all the recent price rises for the aforementioned services. 

It’s not like the streaming services themselves are all quality platforms. There have been unusual developments that have frustrated plenty of subscribers, not including the ad inclusions and price raises. Recently, Netflix began a crackdown on password sharing to prevent multiple people from utilizing a singular Netflix account, using IP addresses and account activity to ensure users were all part of the same “household.”  

There are also seemingly minute things, such as broken or impractical interfaces which make these platforms annoying to experience. Recent controversies involving scrapped fully produced movies such as Max’s “Batgirl” and Disney+’s “SpiderWick Chronicles” also push the idea streaming platforms can leave their subscribers with empty promises. 

This current state of streaming just reflects the incessant drive for everything to be monetized. We no longer have a few methods to watch a lot of shows, now we have a lot of methods to watch a few shows. One cable package can include HBO, Food Network and Nickelodeon. But now, I need to pay for three separate platforms for these. And if I want to save money, I can begrudgingly give in to advertisements.  

If something doesn’t change soon, we might as well be paying for individual television and movie channels. Somebody should introduce a new way to combine these platforms, and perhaps it could all be connected to a TV through a singular unit with a single cord. We might as well all cancel our streaming subscriptions and return to the most supreme form of entertainment: cable television.

 Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong 

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