It came as mild surprise that Netflix reported a sharp drop in viewers and even less of a surprise that CNN canceled its CNN+ service. It’s not enough for streaming services to collect X dollars a month from subscribers. They have to deliver something in return.
They do, but not often enough.
During COVID-19 hibernation, life had been a stream. Numerous hours were spent paddling through various streaming services as video seemed to provide the company many of us missed.
By the end of 2020, yours truly was subscribed to Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Hulu, MHz and, of course, Netflix. The lack of out-of-home experiences had her settling for anything with scenery, pretty costumes and complex relationships. Her partner was fine with gruesome crimes, tank battles and exploding trucks.
As you can imagine, common ground could be hard to find. There was agreement, however, on the widely popular “Breaking Bad,” “Ozark,” “The Crown,” “Gilded Age” and “Better Call Saul.” Sadly, these superb series are over for the season, headed for the exits or gone forever.
Meanwhile, it’s spring out there.
The dilemma of not enough new material surely plays a part in the spectacular collapse of CNN+. I’ve been glued to CNN throughout the Ukraine war. It gets high marks for its on-the-ground reporting and generals who explain what’s going on.
But other aspects of that coverage are downright painful. We speak of news anchors who obnoxiously milk genuine tragedy—amid intense public interest—to force themselves into the spotlight. And CNN’s use of background music while surveying the devastation is unseemly.
A half-Russian, half-Ukrainian friend who used to work for Western media in Moscow brought this up. She can’t stop watching the news. But she’s increasingly disturbed at seeing this news story dramatized in a way that is almost disrespectful of the victims.
A boss at CNN headquarters must have told the anchors to cutely refer to the country’s suffering mothers as “moms.” And so you have Jake Tapper asking Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “What is it like for you, as the president of this country, to see those videos, to hear the crying of the moms?”
There was CNN morning host Brianna Keilar talking to a woman from Bucha whose family watched Russians kill her mother. “I’m so thankful that you still have your father, Tatiana,” Keilar says with staged sympathy. “Can you tell us about your mom? Can you tell the world what you want them to know about your mom?”
Ukraine’s fighters, medics and victims stoically speak of the horror without self-dramatization. You could almost see them wince at the fake emoting by the news anchors.
To top it off, Tapper, in the middle of his long interview with Zelenskyy, announces: “Dave Matthews has a new song in honor of refugees. He is going to perform it for us for the very first time.” And so Tapper interrupted the man fighting to save his country from oblivion to promote a musical interlude.
If this is what CNN was promising in its subscription service, small wonder it had few takers. More real news and less showboating by the studio stars might have helped.
Americans are now crawling out of their living rooms (or media rooms, if they’re fancy). The days of captured audiences paying for just about any televised distraction are over. This was an inevitable consequence of the pandemic (and winter) coming to an end.
Any streaming service that wants to latch onto my monthly credit card bill needs to offer value. Yes, we’re still debating what to watch after dinner—but also whether we need to watch anything at all. Better streaming could alter that conversation.