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So Many Decisions! The Future of Streaming TV Is Nettlesome

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Remember all those years we waited for the future of streaming entertainment to arrive? Remember how we could see it coming—a future where we could say goodbye to cable while signing on to smaller streaming packages that suited us better—but it seemed to take an eternity to finally get here?

Well, it’s here now, and we can all enjoy a variety of niche services that stream whatever we like to whatever device we choose at whatever time is convenient.

Well, some of us can enjoy it. Others are just so bothered by all these choices!

The over-the-top backlash has arrived, and it’s taken the form of whiny articles that carp about the many subscription services we can now select from.

Did I say select? No, apparently we’re forced to subscribe ... to all of them. Consider the article in The Washington Post, “Freedom From Cable Isn’t Free: Flood of Streaming Services Will Make Cutting the Cord More Complicated.” It bemoans the fact that CBS is debuting new The Good Wife and Star Trek series on CBS All Access, “... marking yet another service people may need to subscribe to.”

The article also quotes a Chicago father of two who’s upset about paying more money but getting fewer channels: “I don’t want to end up in a place where you have to subscribe to a bunch of different fiefdoms.”

Need to ... Have to ... These poor people! Some sinister organization is holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to pay for premium programming.

For The Washington Post, subscribing to Netflix was all right, but now that there are many quality streaming services—“At least six networks have launched services, with subscription fees ranging from $6 to $15 per month”— it’s all too much. “The cost and mental effort of managing multiple services may be starting to prove nettlesome,” it says.

The horror.

A few days later, The New York Times upped the ante with “The Messy, Confusing Future of TV? It’s Here.” The author starts out with a legitimate criticism: It’s tedious to search through several subscription services to find the show or movie you want. The people at Roku thought it was legitimate, too, which is why they created a universal search years ago. It’s not the only device to have one. Someone tell the Old Gray Lady there’s a solution.

But then the Times burbles hysterically that, “we’ve rushed headlong into a hyper-fragmented mess,” and wishes that some “enterprising entrepreneur” would package these services together and sell them for a single price. You know, like cable TV does. A Frost & Sullivan analyst by the name of Dan Rayburn pours water on this fever dream, saying, “There’s no chance of that happening.”

Here’s what I’d like these tortured writers to understand, and it’s good advice for anyone who feels overwhelmed by choices: You don’t have to take them all. Try one or two services that appeal to you. Watch the shows and movies you enjoy. Binge watch all weekend, if that’s your thing. Then, when your queue is empty, drop those services and try others. There are no commitments here. This isn’t cable. If the only thing you like on Netflix is House of Cards, then watch the new season and drop the service. If the only show you like on HBO is Game of Thrones, then watch the new episodes and drop HBO Now when you’re done. It’s so easy.

But if you find that those services have more than enough good content for you, keep them and don’t worry about the others. You don’t need to watch every good show. If you plan on leaving the house once in a while, it’s not even possible.

Yes, there are a lot of quality shows these days and it’s tempting to gorge on them all, but we’re going to have to get used to making choices. There will only be more subscription video-on-demand services in the coming years offering more variety. That’s a good thing. I suspect people will get used to it.

[This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Woe Is Us! The Future of Streaming TV Is Nettlesome."]

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