Brainiac On Banjo #085: Crossing The Stream

Star Wars! / Give me those Star Wars! / Nothing but… Star Wars / Don’t let them end — written by Nick Winters, 1977

With all the streaming at our fingertips, the entertainment business is making a lot of headlines promoting what they’re going to do once Earthlings return to mobility. But don’t get excited just yet: the only cameras operating right now are working Zoom and not Studio Binder. When Keith Richards self-quarantines, everyone should self-quarantine.

Next week’s launch of HBO Max has turned up the heat. Clearly, studios are concerned about competing for subscribers with promises of new content, which, at best, won’t appear until after the winter solstice. My take on HBO Max is simple: it’s goddamn expensive, and right now they’re running little but reruns. It’ll probably work out because they’re not promoting that fact. But reasonable bean-counters understand that few people are going to maintain subscriptions to HBO Max, Disney+, AppleTV, CBS All Access, Peacock Premium, and Amazon Prime – to name but a very few – all at once. That’s a lot of money, and it’s also more programming than one can handle.

Of course, we don’t know how much TrumpTV is going to charge for its live public executions platform.

We might have a clue to the first casualty. AT&T’s DC Universe is a pay-for-play service that offers us Stargirl, Doom Patrol, Titans, Young Justice and Harley Quinn, along with various and sundry back-of-the-book things like a daily promo thing, some historical and background information, and reruns of earlier DC Comics-related television shows and movies. Oh, yeah, they also offer on-screen access to some of their comic books, for those who have a passion for squinting real hard.

But as we get closer to their launch next week, we are discovering most of these shows will be available almost simultaneously on other services, including The CW, Fubo, Vudu, YouTube TV, and Max. As they drop exclusivity, one might ask “Who the hell needs the DC Universe streamer?” I would not be the least bit surprised to see it folded into HBO Max and give subscribers a temporary but seductive discount.

Of all the streamers that are tied to big studio production houses, it seems as though CBS All Access has figured out the formula, at least for the time being. Home to The Good Fight, The Twilight Zone (a pathetic retelling of the classic stories) and others, the core of this hunk of tollavision is their revived Star Trek properties. ST: Discovery brought lots of eyeballs to the service, and it was followed by ST: Picard, which broke some sort of record for ocular magnetism. A prequel to the original series, ST: Strange New Worlds, is a spin-off from Discovery featuring Captain Pike, young (but not baby) Spock, and Number One. This series will start filming when actors are allowed to leave their houses.

Another new spin-off featuring Michelle Yeoh’s character from Discovery is in the works, as well as a look at Starfleet’s lesser-seen pongo titled ST: Lower Decks. Hey, the Star Trek universe has about as much acreage as do the DC and Marvel universes, and far more room than the drizzle of Star Wars effluvia.

The real casualties of the streaming flood, though, likely are the broadcast channels and the specific networks that serve them. It used to be said that nobody ever lost a dime on a VHF broadcast television station (analog channels 2 through 13). It also used to be said that Herbert Hoover was president. Now, those broadcast networks have their own streamers, and they don’t need broadcast teevee. NBCUniversal will let you watch their Peacock channel for free if you deign to sit through their unavoidable commercials.

I realize TV Guide is still being published as a magazine, but by the time you figure out what’s on, you’ve missed it. Streaming services are an M.C. Escher form of broadcast television, and for decades that magazine has been as necessary as the Manhattan phonebook… and almost as hefty. We now have apps that tell us what’s available. Generation Z viewers never had to risk missing an episode of their favorite shows no matter what when their tennis lessons may be. Baby Boomers remember being tethered to the boob tube in the days before video tape recorders.

Yes, times change. That’s cultural gravity. We ask ourselves “what’s next,” but by the time we get those words out of our mouths, we’ve already got whatever is next.

Do not bet against those brain chip implants.