Streaming Apps Need a Makeover

January 27, 2023

Yesterday I read this article about the most streamed shows according to Nielsen. While it was not a surprise that Stranger Things sat at the top, there was something…strange…about the shows that followed:

  • NCIS
  • Cocomelon
  • Ozark
  • Encanto
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Criminal Minds
  • Bluey
  • Gilmore Girls
  • Seinfeld

Why It Matters

Given the variety of content available on streaming services, it looks like people are binging comfort shows. For many of these, it seems likely using streaming minutes watched reflects power users (many times children) streaming a lot of the same series, instead of reflecting the reach of a show. In a world where executives make decisions about data, I hope this is not the measure they’re using to green or red light new show concepts.

Streaming Apps are Broken

One thing many of these shows have in common is they are older, long running, with deep back catalogs. The popularity of NCIS is not a reflection of its greatness, but that it is consistent in quality and style. You can start from Season 1 Episode 1 and then watch it in a linear fashion on streaming TV for weeks or months. You are then un-burdened from having to decide what to watch next for a long time. I think people are trying to create some sort of linear television watching experience on the streaming service by watching these shows.

How to Fix Them

I need a way to separate my discovery time and work from my watching time and work. Presumably the “watch list” feature should do this, but many streaming services have a poor version of that. You can add things to a list, they do not remove them when you finish, and you cannot tell your streaming service app to simply iterate through the watch list. Otherwise it’s a lot less work to simply binge NCIS.

Sharing Streaming Shows is Hard

The other issue is sharing a streaming show is not easy. The URLs for the specific shows are often incomprehensible strings like “urn:hbo:page:GY4Rv5A48VaaHgQEAAAKL:type:feature”. The apps do not provide a good facility for retrieving and sending out a sharable link. And I do not think any streaming apps natively take advantage of Apple’s well intentioned but often forgotten about Shared with You functionality. And even if I do like and want to share something, there is no “leaky paywall” or “gift an episode” option the way I can gift a New York Times article, my friend has to sign-up for a whole service.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.