The Netflix activity log is one of the most frightening pieces of data you can access about yourself online. With a click of a button, you can see every piece of content you (and the people you share your account with) watched, even if it was a movie you put on for one minute before deciding to switch to something else. I log all the films I watch on Letterboxd, like any normal person. But I don’t keep a record of all the TV I watch in a year, mainly because I don’t want to know. The streamers I subscribe to, however, do know.
Since the pandemic started, my time spent watching content on streaming services has increased. I often spend evenings on the couch with my partner, and we watch both appointment TV like The White Lotus and old episodes of shows that are now streaming, like Supernatural. Often, though, I can’t decide what to watch because there are simply too many options and too many streamers.
The prices of streaming services have also increased this year, leaving subscribers to abandon services that don’t feel worth it to them anymore. With the current state of streaming, I’ve been wondering what makes a perfect streaming service. Here is my wish list.
1) Easy-to-navigate layout and fewer suggestions:
Some streamers are better at this than others, but I often can’t find what I’m looking for—even if it was just released!—unless I search for it. The rows and rows of recommended content are usually unhelpful. Based on the activity data, you’d think companies would have this nailed down by now. What I want are around 10 to 15 recommendations. That’s it. No more paradox of choice.
2) Not canceling so many original shows after 1 or 2 seasons:
The OA is one of my favorite TV shows released in the last decade. Co-created by and starring Brit Marling, the show took us on a mysterious and captivating tale across multiple dimensions. Despite a strong fan base, it was canceled after only two seasons. It wasn’t the only show. A frustrating side effect of the Peak TV era is that so many good shows are getting canceled early. It’s hard to get invested in a show now when you’re unsure if the rest of the story will be greenlit.
3) More packages that combine multiple streamers:
I’ve hit my limit on the number of subscriptions to streaming services. I’m already watching content from around six streamers on a semi-regular basis. I don’t have the capacity to pay attention to any new streamers. Inflation already encouraged subscribers to drop at least one streaming service in 2022. With rising prices, consumers are canceling subscriptions if they’re not currently watching anything on the service.
What we need is fewer streaming services and more packages that offer a discount for subscribing to multiple services. Currently, streamers are all competing for our attention, and it’s overwhelming. The most common reason for canceling a subscription, according to one 2022 survey, is “paying for too many services already,” followed by “not using it enough.”
4) An effort to interact with subscribers:
Outside of emails that send me recommendations (often for content I’ve already watched), streaming services don’t really interact with their users. When you compare that to the way that popular movies and TV shows are memed online, there’s a big gap in engagement. I’ve been using Netflix long enough to remember when the service had reviews on the site for each title.
Sure, people eventually abused the feature and review-bombed content that they didn’t even watch, but reviews did allow us to see what other subscribers thought of a movie.
What we have now is millions of subscribers and limited personalization or a sense of community. Some smaller streamers make more of an effort—like Criterion Channel, which offers collections based around a season, director, actor, or theme. A streamer should do the work of curating content for its subscribers and building a community if they want people to stay.
5) Good content:
This is probably the most important element of a streamer. You need good, original content to keep people interested. And while 2022 was filled with a number of great new TV shows, there were also some originals that felt like they were quickly churned out or lacking in quality. People don’t want to watch anything. They want to watch TV shows or movies they feel a connection to, or, at the very least, something that makes them laugh. Content with a storyline that feels like it was made by an algorithm? That’s out.