Is There Any Adventure in Television Anymore?

By Nick Sadeghian, Campaign Director at Ingenuity London

As I sit here pondering the Orwellian future of entertainment we find ourselves in, I think back to the DVD collection that my father and I spent years curating, that now sits idle in my parents’ garage collecting dust.

It’s got the Oscar-winning classics like Gladiator and Platoon. It’s got epic box sets like Band of Brothers and Lost. It’s even got a few outstanding international hits, like Hard Boiled and Taste of Cherry (back when international hits were harder to come by).

I am almost embarrassed at how proud I am of that DVD collection. Even though in almost 30 years I can count on one hand how many people have acknowledged it (a mate once said “nice collection”), it brings a tear to my eye to think of the nuanced taste required to curate such a discerning library.

I keep them in the naïve hope that one day DVDs will go the same way as vinyl. Perhaps, 20 years from now, my (hypothetical) children will come running to me as they reach peak teenage edginess and ask if we have a DVD player in the attic, much like when as a teenager I ran to my dad to ask if we had a “vinyl player” (to which he gave me a sideways look and asked, “do you mean a turntable?”).

But that’s almost certainly never going to happen. Because vinyl is a lossless format, and because the entertainment game has changed completely. These days, we’re all force-fed by our electronic algorithmic overlords, much like the humans being coddled by the robots in WALL-E (another certified classic entombed in my garage).

These algorithms tell us what to watch before we even get a chance to really think about it, removing any semblance of free will from the equation.

Curation and adventure in film and television have been eviscerated by the algorithm. When Blockbuster was a thing, picking a film to watch was actually considered an outing. On Saturday nights the old man and I would drive to Blockbuster and spend 30-minutes wandering around to pick a film. These days my TikTok-ravaged attention span can’t even handle a 30-minute episode of The Bear without multiple breaks to see if any of my friends have posted anything interesting online (spoiler alert: they haven’t).

And guess which films got picked? The ones with the interesting cover art. The ones that had Steven Seagal in them (though I’m convinced his career would have been a non-starter if he came up today… a thousand apologies Sensei). I can’t remember the last time I took a true punt on a film that wasn’t recommended to me “Up Next”, or the last time I turned on terrestrial TV and just watched whatever was on Film 4 (which makes no sense, because their curation is outstanding, and it’s free).

We now find ourselves at the Ninth Circle of Dante’s Streamferno, where the only films we watch are the ones we’re told to. There’s a certain analogue connection we all once had with cinema that’s been lost as we all get drunk on the convenience of streaming platforms. The social aspect is out of whack as well – you can’t “borrow a film from a mate” anymore, because all your mates have access to everything already but choose to watch documentaries immortalising serial killers instead.

As a result, Netflix doesn’t even really bother spending much money on marketing. Their CEO Ted Sarandos “just doesn’t see the point in spending billions of dollars to market shows when tens of millions of people already use the service every day. The algorithm tells them what to watch.” And watch we do. Diligently.

But is the streaming party coming to an end? In 2022, UK homes cancelled 2m streaming services in light of the cost of living crisis (the first decline since the streaming revolution began in the UK 10 years ago). Some Netflix employees are encouraging the business to consider fewer, better shows (because they currently churn out 700 a titles a year, which in my opinion is very much the root of problem!).

It feels like the opportunity is ripe for someone to swoop in and save us from this “box set death march” (a phrase I’ve stolen from Succession, ironically), and disrupt entertainment’s general predisposition towards force feeding.

Perhaps it’s time Netflix upped their social functionalities by giving us the opportunity to curate and share playlists, much like Spotify do? Or to follow our favourite actors or directors to see what they’ve been watching? They could even incorporate a rating system that allows people to leave reviews (until everyone starts writing them on ChatGPT, and then we’re back to square one…).

Simply adding a human element and having that person make genuine informed recommendations would make all the difference. Perhaps it could involve famous critics holding quarterly residencies, pairing their recommendations with their writeups for anyone looking to read more into a film they’ve enjoyed (or didn’t) after it’s finished.

Ultimately, the time is right for Netflix to enhance the social aspects of television consumption as something which has inherently social roots now feels extremely insular. And if Netflix does decide to implement any sort of social or sharing features, I’ll be the first to upload a list of all the DVDs in my garage (and maybe even get a few more messages from people saying “nice collection”).