Are we living in a golden age of television? Quite possibly, if your idea of TV is “a piece of visual entertainment to be watched alone, enjoyed, and never thought about again”.
Personally, I find shows themselves less interesting than talking about them — even if it’s just complaining about why bad episodes were bad — and the direct inverse of that conversation is being told: “Oh, I heard that’s good. I’ll have to watch it soon.”
But there is a solution. And if several years reporting on disaster tech companies is anything to go by, there are an inordinate number of very gullible, very rich people who would happily throw money at me to build it. (And so, by reading further, you agree that if you steal this concept you will at least buy me a nice dinner whether it takes off or not.)
Ready? Here goes: A streaming platform that only ever has one thing on.
There are (no joke) an estimated 233 different streaming platforms currently available in the US, which I think we can all agree is far too many. The number of titles on any of these services fluctuates both short- and long-term, and some estimates place the libraries of the two biggest — Netflix and Hulu — at around 6500 and 9600 titles, respectively.
How long would it take to watch everything that’s good on either, let alone these respective catalogues in their entirety? In lieu of sitting down to even do back-of-the-envelope maths let me say, enthusiastically: Too damn long!
The daunting scale of options, compounded by the fact that a lot of people subscribe to (or “borrow” logins for) multiple services, means the process of picking something to watch can be longer and more arduous than the thing itself.
“It’s your turn to pick” has become an inordinate burden, especially because the entire purpose of watching TV is, more often than not, to placate the stupid parts of your brain and shut off the ones that do any heavy lifting.
This is not to say things were any better in the pre-streaming days of overstuffed pay TV packages, all of which were made even worse by the advent of DVR. But we’re told technology paves a brighter way forward.
And for that reason, I want a Netflix, but with literally just one thing on it. No, I don’t care what it is. What’s important is that I never again have to think about what to watch, and I never have to spend 10 minutes fishing around for a show me and whoever I’m stuck in an elevator with have both seen. Life is short and elevator rides aren’t that long.
Template-wise, the closest thing that exists to this already is Woot — as it was when it launched in 2004. Every day there’s one thing you could buy. If you don’t like that thing you don’t have to buy it. That’s it.
And this is less compelling as a commerce play than an entertainment service because, as you might be aware, you need to buy certain things to live (food, clothes, branded notepads, very cheap HDMI cables and so on), not all of which can be fulfilled by a single-serve website, while zoning out to The Great British Bake-Off is more or less optional.
Even Woot — now an Amazon subsidiary — was ruined eventually, and is now host to a multitude of deals. We don’t need to make that same mistake with streaming entertainment.
Rather than the total confusion it would elicit now, just imagine a future where an appropriate response to the question “did you watch it last night?” is just yes or no.