Streaming Video Services And Cultural Literacy

I like Tim Carmody’s piece on the value of old television shows for consumers:

It’s one of the few things that is an order of magnitude easier on a digital service like Netflix than actually popping in a DVD or managing a folder full of torrented movie files: the service perfectly maintains your place in the series, no matter what device you’re using, and you can just hit “play next episode” over and over again. Or you can easily scan for a rewatchable favorite. (Readers with kids know this is particularly useful.)

Full seasons of old television shows perfectly suit the pseudo-ownership viewers have with streaming video. You might keep DVD box sets of some of your favorite series, but you’re not going to buy the complete run of Cheers just to see what the fuss was about. At the same time, you’re unlikely to wait to bittorrent the entire thing or see every episode in syndication, either. It offers a service above and beyond what you can get with a cable subscription or internet broadband alone, for which a broad base of viewer are happy to pay a small sum.

But I think he could have taken this a step further: these services are particularly appealing and valuable because they allow you to do a big-gulp catchup on things you might have missed. If you’re like me and grew up without a television; if you’re an immigrant trying to pick up a bunch of American culture all at once; if your tastes changed over time and where you once cared about 90210 you now care about Roseanne, the ability to sit down and watch all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Cheers in an extended gulp rather than spread out over the years is invaluable. There’s no question that the Internet’s sped up and fractured the conversation around culture, as it has with politics and almost everything else. But it’s also given us tools that let us catch up to and participate in that conversation. Services like Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime serve up nostalgia, but they also let people join in a set of references that would have been inaccessible to them before.