With the Writers Guild of America as well as SAG-AFTRA on strike, it’s no secret that the state of film and television is a bit dicey at the moment. However, the lack of equitable pay to writers and residuals for actors (among other issues) aren’t the only sinister practices going on in the industry.
Over the past year, streaming services such as Max, Netflix, and more have seen a dramatic uptick in the practice of completely wiping titles after the licensing expires or if certain watch quotas, invisible to the consumer, have not been met. With a lack of physical availability of many of these properties (i.e, DVDs) that came about as a result of the rise of streaming in the first place, title purges are creating a variety of unique issues that somehow feel akin to a modern burning of the Library of Alexandria.
Let’s take a deeper look into why this practice, exacted as a cost-cutting mechanism, is so problematic in my humble opinion. Full disclaimer, while I am someone who doesn’t enjoy media and the film/television industry casually, I am but a scientist by trade.
The Effect on the Consumer
The fundamental issue with wiping titles in the blink of an eye from a streaming platform is breaking audiences’ trust. When shows get a single season to prove their worth on platforms such as Netflix and are canceled and removed shortly thereafter, it creates no incentive for audiences to get invested into anything in the first place. Why take the time to watch something you know has an extremely low chance of coming back (or that you will have to put your heart and soul into fighting for a renewal on social media with fellow fans)? The most criminal part about it is that when a beloved show is wiped off the face of the Earth by these cost-cutting decisions, you can’t even go back and relive the best parts of it that made audiences love it in the first place — or even share it with others to help the title’s popularity grow.
As I mentioned before, these days there a startling lack of physical copies of media such as DVDs. This is largely a product of a combination of the advent of streaming as an industry (which changed the way people tend to consume film and television by allowing them to do it in the comfort of their own home) and the natural progression of technology. However, when media properties are wiped off of platforms and there are no physical copies of it, the title is essentially gone forever to the public with no way to preserve its memory. All of this culminates to make media consumers distrustful of the titles that they choose to invest in, contributing to a circular cycle of short-lived shows with low watch rates — because people feel like they’ll disappear shortly thereafter anyways.
The Effect on the Talent
In addition to impacting the audience, the very people this media is made to satisfy, this phenomenon also has a profound effect on the people who are involved in creating the media in the first place. The way I see it, there are two major ways that wiping titles from platforms have a major effect on the talent that goes into producing them: the lack of residuals and the lack of exposure. Though residuals are a hot topic right now in terms of the inequitable rates that actors have been receiving (Seriously, ever heard of the Residuals bar? It’s sad.), I feel that the larger issue is arguably the lack of exposure that comes with having your blood, sweat, and tears disappeared forever.
In addition to not getting back pay for the work that they did, people in the industry (let’s use actors as the example here) aren’t able to preserve their work. This impacts their marketability in terms of future portfolios, reels, etc., as well as just not having something that you worked on for a long period of time for sentimental purposes.
In my everyday life, I’ve found that the average person doesn’t understand how many hours of work actually go into preparing media like this, from rehearsal hours to late night filming and more. These pieces of media are the culmination of many months to years of work from a slew of different departments and individuals, and to have it all erased like it never existed in the first place (and all of their effort with it) is truly a disservice to them.
The Effect on the Overall Streaming Economy
These changes to the content available on streaming platforms from month to month have more than frustrated many a customer. This in conjunction with ever-rising prices and the splitting and moving of content across multiple platforms as companies fight to acquire rights to titles has been inspiring customers to drop services left and right. While the profit margins for these huge companies is more than big enough to accommodate losses during transition periods like this, you have to ask yourself how this will affect competition between platforms and likeability with consumers.
With every title dropped, it feels like more and more advantage over other companies as well as favor with consumers is lost as well. The lack of accountability with these platforms to the people who worked so hard developing these pieces of media as well as the lack of loyalty to fans just trying to enjoy their favorite show (that might not be a bonafide hit but is a hit in their hearts) has the potential to take streaming in this age of pseudo-cable in a completely different direction than we currently know it to exist — though what that would ensue is only for the future to tell.
While it’s quite unlikely that this practice will be stopping anytime soon, it’s important to understand why it’s so sinister in the first place. With the film and television industry in such turmoil, this moment represents a pivotal time for media consumers as well as executives who control this industry to consider what ethical practices in an industry the average person supports look like in order to move towards fair and equitable media consumption.