On Streaming Services and Free Online Content

I thought I knew what I wanted to say for this post, but now I’m not so sure it makes a lot of sense outside my own head. But I’m going to try to explain it the best I can.

So a recent announcement on South Park‘s website  says that their almost complete collection of episodes will no longer be available for free viewing on their site. If you look at the comments, no one seems to be happy about this. And it’s not something I can entirely blame them for; no one would be happy to lose what was essentially 17 seasons of a TV show that only cost them an Internet connection to watch. Instead, they’ll be available on Hulu Plus, with the South Park website having a select few available at a single time.

I’ve got to admit I’m bummed out, too. South Park is definitely one of my top five favorite shows, and since I can’t seem to ever see it on TV, I’ve started to rely on their website to catch up on episodes. The ability to instantly watch almost any episode I find a sudden urge to see is something I’ve taken advantage of, as well. Granted, I have plenty of other things I could watch online instead, so it’s not like I’m going to be without entertainment or anything like that. But I’d still like the opportunity to check out almost any episode on their website, especially since Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been offering that opportunity for years now.

But in all honesty, I’m surprised they haven’t made this move sooner. South Park is a pretty big show with a lot of viewers; having almost all their episodes available for free on their website was truly a gift in this age of dominating streaming services. Things like Netflix and Hulu Plus are well on their way to replacing cable television, at least for my generation. And why not? They’ve already replaced video stores, and I’m fairly certain almost no one buys movies or seasons of TV shows anymore.

Which is pretty sad, because I don’t think a lot of people understand what using a subscription service means.

A lot of people sign up for these services thinking, “Hey, now I can watch any movie or show I want!” Well… sort of. I mean, yeah, there are a ton of options for you to choose from, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always be available. If at all.

Take South Park as an example again. It used to be on Netflix a few years ago, but it’s not anymore. I’ll admit I was pretty pissed off at first, but then I found out they’re all available on their website for free. So that wasn’t so bad. But lots of shows have disappeared from Netflix. Same with movies. I’d make a mental note to check something out later while I was browsing through available programs. And when I finally got around to checking that something out, it was no longer available.

These kind of services let you watch whatever they have, which isn’t the same as whatever you want. These two things may be the same at times, but not all the time. Personally, I can’t even remember the last time I watched a movie on Netflix. Every time I try to see if something is available, it’s not. And it’s just not new movies, either. I wanted to watch To Kill a Mockingbird a couple of years ago. Classic movie. Not available. Earlier this year I decided I was too old to never have seen The Shining. Another classic movie. Not available. Last year I read Fight Club for the first time and fell in love. I wanted to check out the movie. Cult classic. Not available. A couple of years ago I had a sudden desire to check out The Karate Kid. Nope. Not available.

These aren’t even new movies. I could sort of understand why a streaming service couldn’t offer new movies, but older classics?

To be fair, I’ve had much better luck with TV shows, although I’ve still seen them come and go.

But I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t rely too much on streaming services that offer a seemingly unlimited amount of material for a small fee. I mean yeah, it’s great and all, but a lot of people get used to the idea that they’ll be able to access whatever they want at any time. But those services decide what to offer and what to take down at any point. It’s not the same as owning a copy on DVD. It’s not yours to access any time you want. It’s theirs, and they choose to share it with you for a fee.

Same goes with free stuff online, like the South Park episodes. It’s really disappointing when stuff like that goes away, but it’s not like we bought the DVDs, then someone came into our homes and took them away from us. And I mean, I get it. It’s not like we’re going to go out and buy every single movie or TV show we have an urge to watch or check out. That would be ridiculous. Having stuff available for free online or part of a streaming service probably gives more access to more people, which may in fact help studios in the long run.

But, like… I don’t know. Like I said, this all sounded better in my head. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t get too attached to streaming services or free online stuff, ’cause you never know when they’ll just take stuff down. Buying a copy of something for yourself may not be as lame or outdated as you may think.

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