It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad (Streaming) World

The movie, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963) – currently not streaming for free according to JustWatch – tells the story of a group of money-hungry folks who hear about a treasure buried in California. They jump into their cars, as Buddy Hackett says, “Every man for himself” style, and proceed to drive for the money, everyone else be damned.

Taking this movie plot as a metaphor for the streaming media industry today seems as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Everyone wants your money, and everyone is sending you on a wild chase to figure out where to spend it.

As someone who is researching “cord-cutting” and at the same time, trying to figure out the best package for my cable watching, I can tell you for sure that the streaming industry is more fragmented than ever.

BTW, caveat- this is a stuck-at-home-pandemic-style and have lots of time and money problem. This is not everyone’s problem. If it’s yours, let’s proceed. (Also, I haven’t even scratched the surface of  “you can find it online if you look hard enough,” nor will I in this piece.)

Defining the Problem

Say, for a moment, you want to watch a film. Maybe its’ something you’ve seen before. Or perhaps it was one recommended on one of your favorite podcasts, like the Wingman Daily “lo-fi movie countdowns.” Where is your movie playing on streaming?

That’s ok, I’ll wait.

Assuming you didn’t pick “Frozen” or “Avengers,”  you’ve probably realized, hey, I don’t know if my choice is on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+ or on-demand on one of the channels my cable company allows me to call up and, if I’m lucky, says “Free-to-me.”

You Call that a Solution?

The good news is, there’s a website/app for that. JustWatch allows you search for a movie title, and figure out, yep, it’s on Hulu and think to yourself, “guess I should have paid for Hulu.”

The fact that JustWatch has to exist says a lot about the world of streaming today. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE JustWatch. It’s the Google of ‘where do I find that movie.’ But *why* do we need a site to tell us the other sites where we find the things we want to watch? (In the old days this was called “TV Guide.”)

In theory, your FireTV or Apple TV or Roku could just find you the think you want to watch (and take a cut when you subscribe to see the thing.) As the comedian would say,  “If it really was a “Smart” TV it would know where my movie was, am I right?” <rimshot>

But none of the devices I have (a smart tv, fire stick, google stream by Verizon) do this well, that I know of (open to feedback of course.) We’re in a fractured world now. A lot like when people thought “AOL was the internet” since certain things only existed there, while you could get lots more out on the wide open net.

Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept it…

To see the absurdity of how fragmented streaming actually is, let’s look at a few movie franchises with 6 or more movies to find where we can watch them (all data as of today.)

Star Wars Saga (11 movies)

  • Obviously you can watch all of them on Disney+
  •  Attack of the Clones, Last Jedi, Force Awakens, Rogue One, Solo – TBS or TNT on demand, and SlingTV

At least this one is easy – if you want to watch ’em all, Disney+

Fast and the Furious (8 movies and 1 spin-off)

  • THE Fast and the Furious – HBO/Now/Max, Direct, Sling or USA on demand (but not on my cable system)
  • 2 Fast, 2 Furious – HBO Max, HBO, Direct, Sling or USA (but not on my cable system)
  • Tokyo Drift – Sling and USA, but not the others
  • Fast and Furious (no THE to slow you down) – Sling, USA
  • Fast 5 – Nowhere for free – try the library, maybe they have the DVD
  • Fast 6 – Peacock or Sling
  • Furious 7 – Fubo, FX Now and Direct TV
  • Fate of the Furious – Sling, FX Now and Direct TV
  • Hobbs and Shaw – HBO/Max/Now and DirectTV

So, if you want to watch cars so fast they accelerate to hyperspeed with some NO2, you’re going to want Sling, mostly.

Mission Impossible (6 Movies)

  • MI 1 – Fubo, FX Now, DirectTV
  • MI II – Fubo, FX Now, DirectTV
  • MI III – Fubo, FX Now, DirectTV
  • MI Ghost Protocol – Prime, Hulu, DirecTV or Epix
  • MI Rogue Nation – Fubo, FX, DirectTV
  • MI Fallout – Prime, Hulu, DirecTV or Epix

Imagine: “Your mission, Mr. Phelps, is to steal your cousin’s Prime password so we can watch 2 of the 6 movies without spending $128 a year for Prime. Should you or any of your cousins be caught, the secretary will deny knowledge of your jail-broken fire stick. This blog will self destruct in 5 seconds…

But I Just Want to Watch TV…

Now, imagine you’re a less obsessed human, who “just wants to watch TV.” You don’t love a $70 or $90 option for TV channels, 800 of which you are not going to watch. But you would like to get some movies. Well, $6.95 here, $4.95 there, $15 here (thanks HBO) and suddenly you have a lot of movies, but no live TV.

If you want to rid yourself of the 800 channels you don’t like but keep those ones your family “needs” to see, there’s also not a great choice. This Streamable piece does an ok job. $30 for Sling, but you don’t get some local TV. $65 for YouTube TV, but suddenly you’re basically paying $70 for TV again, only with fewer channels and a lag when you change them.

If you just want local TV, get an antennal. (Of course if you’re like me and an antenna won’t pull in all the stations due to your location in the hills, you have to get creative.) If you live in 1 of 26 TV markets, and you want TV without an antenna, you can try Locast. At least until they get sued out of existence for showing you the same stuff on line you can get with an antenna. Oh, and then you have to watch Live. If you want to *record* your locast, and you have an old PC around, and you want an afternoon’s project, look at ChannelsDVR. Though I hope you don’t want to watch Channels on your fire stick, since the app is $24 and you don’t know if it will work. Sigh.

You can’t buy your cable channels cafeteria style. And if you’re trying to be an innovative company and pick out only the good ones, like T-mobile tried to do, you’re going to get the smackdown from the lawyers.

So, for now, our family will probably settle for a cable package and a few streaming services. And maybe a cousin’s password if we need to watch that one thing…