This whole streaming conversation started when I found myself explaining apartheid to my 15-year-old (how he missed this aspect of modern history is another matter) and went looking to get "Cry Freedom" so we could watch it together.
I wanted to watch it that day, a Sunday, which turned out to be the mission from hell. I don't use iTunes, could not find it on Netflix and when I finally found it on Amazon it was for the DVD not for streaming, and that would take several days to arrive. (I ordered it, and it never did come.)
I actually got in the car and drove to the one remaining Blockbuster left in Santa Monica to see if by some crazy chance they had the 1987 movie about Steve Biko, starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline. Fat chance. I felt like I had stepped into a time warp; the Blockbuster on Wilshire Boulevard is a sad place with faded movie cases for films no one wants to see. I approached a clerk to ask about "Cry Freedom," but the question died in my throat before I could get it out -- clearly no one at this place knew anything about movies.
The whole experience made me realize how confusing it is to the average movie-lover – the one who doesn't get to go to Sundance, or get invited to press screenings, or receive Academy "screeners" -- to find movies that are not the two dozen titles that are just out of the theaters.
Streaming has replaced the once-ubiquitous chains of Blockbusters, where we could browse the aisles, or pore through catalogues, or ask advice from the clerks who were probably movie geeks hoping to be the next Quentin Tarantino. Streaming has also replaced the original Netflix system of DVDs, where one film led to another.
Sure, that recommendation system still works, but it's now been copied by most every other streaming services, and no one has all the movies. (Netflix still accounts for 33 percent of peak period streaming traffic, miles ahead of the next services, Amazon, Hulu and HBO Go, according to a report by Sandvine.)
That's part of the problem. Everyone and anyone can start a streaming service, and it's become a patchwork quilt to find movies that you're catching up on, or want to view again for the 10th time.
But as TheWrap's comprehensive guide points out, there's still holes in the system and it's an ongoing frustration for the user. From a consumer standpoint, the best solution would have been one universal system where you could download, stream or buy any movie ever made for your digital locker in the cloud. I would certainly pay for that privilege (hello Ultraviolet – but you guys are so late!)
Hollywood's studios waited far too long for that to happen, and Netflix came and stole their lunch. Now despite the smorgasbord of streaming out there, it's still the consumer who feels like they're going hungry.
- Arts & Entertainment