Tech Now + Beyond

How streaming services are killing the cable television industry

Television played an interesting role in my life. Of course, as a toddler I had my favorite shows – I even had a ‘Barney’ doll that I would sit with any time Barney and Friends came on. However, as I got older, I stopped watching TV as much. With a dad and an older brother who didn’t share my television tastes, I preferred to read books instead or watch the odd movie with them. As the Internet got more extensive, streaming movies and TV shows became easy. It opened a world of viewing without commercial breaks, and I loved it. 

In 2007, Netflix became an online streaming service, launching ‘Watch Now’, tying online streaming with their DVD subscriptions. Though Netflix may not have been the first one to enter the game, they are definitely the first ones to be globally successful. Netflix is now a $100-billion company with thousands of titles and is a global phenomenon. Netflix’s streaming service is easily affordable – a basic plan is $9 a month – offers a seemingly unlimited list of movies and TV shows, and is ad-free.

Commercial breaks have become a thing of the past. Tuning in at a specific time to catch a movie is so old-school. The era of speed-cooking to make snacks during a commercial break so you don’t miss the movie is looked at with fondness and nostalgia. 

Scrolling through channels to catch the second half of a random episode that’s filled with commercials is no longer my cup of tea.

Youtuber Drew Gooden made an interesting video on cable TV. He mainly discusses American TV and compares the prices between cable and various streaming services. I have to be honest, cable TV doesn’t seem as wacky here (Dubai) as it does in America, but that’s a personal opinion.

What fascinated me was how expensive cable TV has become. It’s a $100 monthly subscription, with set-up fees and remote control fees attached to your monthly bill. What’s more, is that cancelling a subscription is difficult and so time-consuming. Cable TV tends to show movies and TV shows that are found on streaming services anyway. TV may be good for sports, like FIFA and the Superbowl, or particular events or game shows, but is it worth the added charges to watch a yearly event? Not really, particularly because more games and sports are accessible online. Hotstar in India, for example, has football and cricket matches alongside HBO shows and Disney+. 

Here in the UAE, cable TV becomes a required addition when you sign up for faster Internet because there aren’t many Internet providers available. Honestly speaking, there are two. You learn to compromise. Cable TV here is around AED 100 a month, with ‘additional charges’. Streaming services, on the other hand, are much cheaper. Netflix in Dubai is AED 30 per month, Amazon Prime is AED 16 per month, and Disney+OSN is AED 35 per month. Getting three streaming services is cheaper than cable, and most people tend to share accounts with friends and family. I know I share Netflix and Prime accounts with others, along with Disney+. 

The internet is prevalent and is vital, regardless of streaming or not.

From my experiences, streaming services have resulted in most people cutting the chord on or ignoring cable TV for the most part. Parents and older generations, too, use Netflix and Amazon Prime. Cable TV used to be more appealing to my parents because they have regional-specific shows (can’t get enough of Malayalee movies). Prime and Netflix, however, added Indian, and particularly Malayalam, TV shows and movies to their roster, so my parents have now turned to that instead. It’s much better for me, too, because subtitles are included (my Malayalam is not that great). It’s fun for my parents because they don’t spend an hour watching commercial breaks, and because they can pause and pick up where they left off days later. I honestly can’t remember how I used to tolerate commercial breaks every few minutes, whenever I sit down and try to watch cable TV. Scrolling through channels to catch the second half of a random episode that’s filled with commercials is no longer my cup of tea. I’d much rather scroll through Prime and re-watch The Office, thank you very much.

Streaming services are cheaper, more reliable, easier to use, and more convenient. They also have a staggeringly wide collection that appeals to a global audience. I know Netflix has helped fuel a K-drama obsession with my cousins, and I’ve watched more Indian movies now than I ever have before.  This feels like the golden age of television, with so many incredible TV shows being released. From Succession to Peaky Blinders to Game of Thrones (bar the ending) to sitcoms like Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place, TV is getting really good. The only difference is, it’s not on cable anymore. Streaming services have helped create some incredible shows, combining quality with ease of access.

The internet is prevalent and is vital, regardless of streaming or not. Might as well use it to its highest potential – watching Hamilton and singing along for the 18th time. 

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#BringBackBLF is more important than you think

If you follow the Indian comedy scene you might have noticed a hashtag called #BringBackBLF popping up last week. For those wondering what it means, BLF stands for the ‘Better Life Foundation’, an Indian mockumentary web series released on YouTube in 2016. Following the lives of employees at the Better Life Foundation NGO, the series featured lead and cameo appearances from the biggest names in Indian comedy today, including Naveen Richard, Sumukhi Suresh, Kanan Gill, and Kenny Sebastian, among others. 

The cast of BLF: Sumukhi Suresh, Sindhu Murthy, Naveen Richard, Utsav Chakraborty, Kumar Varun, and Kanan Gill
[The cast of BLF: Sumukhi Suresh, Sindhu Murthy, Naveen Richard, Utsav Chakraborty, Kumar Varun, and Kanan Gill] via IMDb
Upon release, the five-episode show was met with positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, resulting in an equally acclaimed second season picked up by the streaming service now known as DisneyPlus Hotstar.

Clearly inspired by iconic workplace mockumentary shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, BLF was praised for its subtle and self-aware tackling of a myriad of issues in Indian society – like the language gulf between those who do and do not know Hindi, mentalities towards the differently-abled and the infamous world of Indian bureaucracy. I could go on and on about the Michael Scott-esque lead character Neil Menon or his far more competent program head Sumukhi Chawla (think Leslie Knope with Rosa Diaz’s sunshiney attitude), but let’s get to the point. 

In 2018, a short time after BLF’s season 2 was released, Hotstar took it off of its platform. The move was seen by many as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the news that one of the actors, Utsav Chakraborty, was accused of sexual misconduct. That was the year that the #MeToo movement swept through India, bringing many such instances to light and empowering survivors to tell their stories. However, Hotstar’s action also called into question its authenticity and whether it was just ‘hollow appeasement’ to appear part of the movement. #BringBackBLF was trending on Twitter, and the show creators spoke up about their opinions as well. 

Director Debbie Rao writes the name of the show on the slate
[Director Debbie Rao behind the scenes of BLF 2] via Naveen Richard
Why bring this up two years later, you may ask? Thanks to the efforts of college student Nishant Manoj, #BringBackBLF has caught the attention of the show creators a second time, and better late than never – we need to discuss the implications of Hotstar’s decision to take it down.

Objectively, it does seem as if the removal aimed to display solidarity to the victims of criminal behavior from the stars of their content. However, Vikas Bahl’s Masaan remains up on Hotstar, and Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara (understandably) received 95 million views in the first 24 hours on the same platform, despite both directors being accused in the #MeToo movement as well.

Yes,Kevin Spacey was rightly fired from House of Cards, but they were allowed to finish without him. What is more, none of the previous seasons got wantonly removed from their platform. Neither did the numerous films associated with Harvey Weinstein. Production simply went on without their accused members, and that is a choice that the BLF team was robbed of.

The show also featured a large number of women in the crew, including the director Debbie Rao, executive producer, and female leads. What is more, because of their contract, the creators do not own rights to the show that they built. This means they do not have permission to re-upload their hard work on any other platform either. 

Crew and creators of BLF behind the scenes
[Crew and creators of BLF behind the scenes] via Naveen Richard
I don’t know about you, but I was reminded about a similar spat that Taylor Swift had with Big Machine Records about owning her own content. Taylor came out on top eventually (as queens do), but what happens when you aren’t worth upwards of 300 million dollars?

Ultimately, I don’t know if DisneyPlus Hotstar will ever acknowledge or make amends for their actions. They’re a multimillion-dollar company with bigger fish to fry, so they’ll probably stop at blocking the person who restarted the hashtag (they did) and leave it at that.

Whatever happens though, hopefully, #BringBackBLF serves as a reminder about the danger of knee jerk reactions – however well-intentioned – and the importance of support for creators who have poured their hearts into their work.