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WHAT'S LEFT: The real cost of streaming services

I love the accessibility of streaming as much as anyone, but I won't be getting rid of my movie collection any time soon, and neither should you.

101321.O.DG.EMMA MCNAMEE
Emma McNamee
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WORTHINGTON — Folks, I have a confession. In the age of streaming, I remain an unabashed collector and consumer of physical media.

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I want books I can turn the pages on; I want DVDs and CDs stacked in rows and packed into holders. I browse the movie bins every time I go to a big chain store, and I rarely leave empty-handed. Given the choice between buying the digital copy and the DVD — well, I’ll find extra space on my shelf, just wait.

Even when the era of iPods and MP3 players came about, I resolutely refused to relinquish my collection of cassette tapes, despite the fact that Walkmans had gone out of style before I was ever born.

Call me old-fashioned, call me overly sentimental, call me a colossal nerd who is soon going to run out of room on another bookshelf but I like knowing that if Spotify, or Amazon, or Netflix went down today, I’d still have most of my favorite stories accessible. As a writer, as a storyteller, that preservation matters to me.

And as someone who has been watching the effect streaming platforms have on media as a whole, I worry that that preservation is at stake.

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As part of the upcoming Warner Bros’ Discovery+ merger, HBO Max recently purged an alarming amount of its catalog and axed multiple upcoming releases — like the reportedly fully filmed “Batgirl” that was set to stream solely on the platform. Casualties of this move also included the removal of numerous beloved animated shows (including Emmy Award winner Infinity Train), and over 200 episodes of Sesame Street, among others.

Suddenly, years of work from animators, writers, actors and storytellers simply vanish without warning. For shows that only existed via streaming, the only legal way to consume that media is now gone, leaving show creators facing an uncertain future on what this means for the future of this industry — and fans hanging in the lurch.

While what’s happening with the HBO Max and Warner Bros. debacle is concerning, complete removal of content isn’t the only symptom of streaming that’s doing a number on television. TV shows used to be the visual method for long-form storytelling. But now, 20-plus episode seasons are virtually unheard of, and the average Netflix show won’t survive beyond the second season — if they even get that far. Shows that have received nothing but accolades end up on the cutting room floor, as storytelling takes a back seat to profit.

Episode counts shrink, timelines get crunched, and plotlines are sacrificed. I love a good story with something to say. I love worldbuilding and subversion of tropes and character-driven plots. The number of shows I’ve seen canceled to appease the bottom line, or rushed for deadline’s sake is disheartening, not to mention the demands placed on the creative teams behind these shows.

This isn’t to say all streaming television is bad. Some of the best TV I’ve watched has come out within the last few years, created through streaming platforms. I'll eventually go back to my HBO subscription — I'm still missing several seasons from my The West Wing collection and as a big DC Comics fan, Warner Bros. is still the owner of many of those properties.

But I do think the way streaming is going is unsustainable. I think the art of storytelling is only going to continue to suffer, especially if the preservation of those stories is left to the whims of companies.

So, if the next time you’re at the store and you see a copy of a movie you love on sale, or your favorite season of your favorite show, or an album you haven’t seen in a while, and you’ve got the extra cash, take this as a sign to go ahead and buy it — even if you could stream it on some other service. There might come a day where you’re glad to own it.

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Opinion by Emma McNamee
Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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