When I heard about the Amazon Fire TV, the first thing that struck me had nothing to do with its Apple TV-like case.
Or its Apple TV-like price-tag, or the fact it’s effectively (and cunningly) beaten Apple to the living room when it comes to gaming and voice search. (Although instead of fights over the TV remote, I’m now imagining family members each bellowing the show they want to watch at the remote, in the hope of winning the Fire TV’s favour on the basis of sheer volume.)
Instead, what caught my eye was the news that TV show 24 — a kind of mash-up of reality TV and counter-terrorism, done in a manner you know Simon Cowell is desperately trying to harness — is now exclusive to Amazon’s streaming video service, and has therefore been wrenched away from Netflix.
24 was only on my list of “perhaps I’ll get around to watching that at some point” shows, and, to be fair, I’m not currently in pieces, screaming “WHY?” at the sky and sobbing about the inhumanity of the show being unceremoniously removed from a service I actually pay for. That said, the 24 situation does point to the wider problem of silos.
We today so often hear the word ‘exclusive’ in relation to a movie, a TV series or even an entire studio’s catalogue. As I’ve previously noted in this column, streaming services consider themselves ‘fluid’, constantly updating their catalogues, largely because of licensing restrictions and deals. Similar issues also affect digital rental and sales services (in the latter case, notably those that store your purchases in the cloud).
Silos, Silos Everywhere
The problem is, silos fragment the viewing experience, and you’re forced to choose between services that use shows or movies they temporarily ‘own’ as differentiators and weapons. Even if you select a service, based on its catalogue aligning with your own tastes, there’s no guarantee it won’t change within a year or even a month. Good luck keeping track — and if you’re half-way through a virtual box-set, you’d best hope it’s not deleted before you finish.
In the long run, everyone loses. People don’t get to watch all the shows they’d like to, and shows don’t get watched by all the people who might. Some people resort to downloading torrents, thereby denying income to the people and companies that created a show, potentially reducing the likelihood of those shows still in production continuing.
And presumably due to not wanting to piss partners off, we’re not yet at the stage where we can tell a semi-intelligent TV unit what we want to watch and have it return the options for doing so. Even if we could, a seamless experience would only exist if you had the money and means to sign up to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and a host of other services anyway.
Companies often talk about openness. Amazon states the Fire TV is part of an ‘open ecosystem’, and Chromecast is considered by many the most ‘open’ TV extension, presumably due to its cross-platform support and Google yelling ‘open’ every five minutes, then waiting for its fans to respond in kind as if part of a political rally.
But all of these systems — Apple’s, Roku’s, Amazon’s, Google’s, and more — remain beholden to a way of thinking that seems increasingly archaic, and yet appears to be strengthening.
Technology exists to provide content worldwide, for an affordable price, on as many services as possible, and in a timely manner. What the industry lacks is the will. Perhaps as companies clamour to copy each other, content becomes the only obvious differentiator, but it’s unclear how this benefits the consumer.