By John Rogan
Netflix recently released the movie El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie on its platform on Oct. 11. As a massive fan of both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, El Camino was my most anticipated film of the year, and I dug time out of my schedule to have a midnight viewing with friends and family the night of its release.
I was initially skeptical, though, as to why the movie debuted on a streaming service, rather than a widespread cinematic release, or even a special presentation on AMC – the channel that housed Breaking Bad, the property El Camino spun off from.
After some reflection, my suspicions more or less died down. I’d previously thought that there was some unspoken stigma attached to straight to streaming movies, much in the same way straight-to-video movies were implied to be of too low a quality to make it to theaters.
However, as streaming has very rapidly and visibly risen in popularity this decade, this perceived stigma doesn’t cohere with reality. Unlike home video, audiences have embraced properties tied exclusively to streaming with open arms, as can be seen with movies like Bird Box, which amassed over 26 million viewers in its first week alone.
Critics haven’t exactly been allergic to streaming-exclusive films and series, either; Netflix’s Roma (2018) went down as the first streaming-exclusive movie to win an Academy Award, and actually took home three the night of the ceremony.
Personally, I’m not opposed to the idea of streaming-exclusive properties, and in some cases, I end up loving the films and shows that the services offer. My favorite movie of last year, Suspiria, was released exclusively to Amazon Prime Video, and El Camino might actually be my current favorite of this year.
However, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and the recently launched Disney+ all cost money, which, I’ll admit, can be something I forget sometimes with how second nature using them can feel at this point. It’s just so easy to watch video after video that I forget they’re on a platform. Then suddenly, I remember I’m using them when I get a notification reminding me of the monthly subscription fees. The fees rarely exceed $10 a month each, but, especially as a college student, I’ve had to make the decision between paying a fee and eating dinner that day.
I would like to be able to afford eating at some point in the future, so I won’t try to argue in favor of the necessity of paying for all these streaming services. However, media is still an important part of peoples’ lives; it’s an important part of my life, too. All the shows and movies I’ve mentioned above make being in college a little easier, and they matter to me in the same way literature matters to me, which has been my focus of study for three and a half years now.
The fact all this value can cost an arm and a leg is problematic. Even though I’m an outsider to many TV show fandoms, I recognize there’s not much distance between what other people love and what I love.
So, especially in the case of Disney fans, who now will have to subscribe to the aforementioned Disney+ to access any and all Disney properties digitally (some of which are to be removed from streaming platforms fans are already subscribed to), I hate to see something people are passionate about lie outside their reach because they can’t afford it.
I’d argue that Disney fans have been better off without this additional platform existing. While I must admit it will be convenient to access all of a company’s content through a single service, the vast majority of the property that will be available on the platform was available elsewhere, and anybody who would want to watch a Disney show and a show on, say, Netflix, might be limited by their wallet.
Additionally, streaming services like Disney+ cannot necessarily be trusted. Disney’s 21st-century spree of property acquisition and the recent controversy with the Sony-Spiderman deal provide evidence that the company’s highest value is control of its own property, which resulted mainly in canceled projects and viewer resentment.
I think this is more than just speculation because there’s evidence that streaming services value retaining property more than getting that property to viewers’ screens.
In 2018, Netflix reached a deal with TimeWarner, so that, for $100 million, the television show Friends would be Netflix-exclusive. Almost immediately after, Netflix announced that shows like Tuca and Bertie and The Defenders-related series would be discontinued after relatively brief runs. Fans of the properties voiced their dissatisfaction, taking to social media to illustrate how their favorite shows aren’t being given a chance to develop because acquisition of popular properties was prioritized.
Again, these streaming services are not mandatory purchasing, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for choosing to focus their finances on necessities before entertainment. However, movies and shows are still influential on modern popular culture in a way very few other things are, and culture, I believe, is a necessity for a full life.
Despite all these problems, when streaming is being pushed so prominently by companies, giving in has essentially become the only practical method for college students to consume media.