Why I’m Giving Up Streaming in 2019

As a lifelong film fan, I very nearly lost my religion last year.

Of the hundreds of movies released in 2018, I saw six. And although the total number of films I watched last year was a good deal higher, my interest in movies and news of movies took a massive nosedive.

As the end of the year approached, I found myself reflecting on the reasons why, and although I didn’t quite pinpoint a single reason, I think I might have come up with a way to rekindle my love for the medium.

In 2019, I’m giving up streaming.

Hear me out.

Although I can point to a few different reasons why my interest in movies has waned in the last year (The Last Jedi is kind of emblematic of at least one of them), I think it mostly comes down to choice. That is, too much choice.

There are so many services vying for our attention these days. On top of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, there are the cable streaming services: HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, Starz, Paramount, and even YouTube has joined the fray (by the way, I highly recommend Cobra Kai). That’s a lot of services to choose from, and that isn’t even getting into the hundreds of thousands of shows and movies within those services that we have to choose from.

For some people (my wife), more choice is a good thing. For some of us (me), too many choices can be overwhelming.

I heard about a study where two groups of people were given free T-shirts. One group was given a choice between three shirts and the other group wasn’t given any choice. Between the two groups, the group that was most satisfied with the outcome was the group that was not given a choice. The psychology behind this suggested that the group that was given a choice worried later that they might have chosen poorly when selecting between the three options of shirts. The group that was given no choice was just happy to be getting a free shirt.

I think this about sums up my experience with using streaming services. So, in the new year, I’m cutting them out.

Fortunately, I live in a city that still has two very good video stores, one of which is less than five miles from my house.

So here’s my rule for watching movies in 2019: It has to be a physical copy that I either own, have borrowed, rented, or purchased a ticket to see in a theater.

This might seem extreme or anti-technology, but what I’m trying to do is reintroduce some novelty back into the exercise of watching movies and rekindle some of the magic I used to feel when I’d settle into a comfy chair at the end of a day to watch a new (or old) film. I feel like the convenience of streaming and the flood of choices that comes with it has eroded much of what made this activity special for me.

And, anyway, I still enjoy going to the video store and picking out movies to watch. It feels more intentional. It’s also more novel. There’s an investment component in physically renting a movie that doesn’t come with streaming movies online. If I take the time to drive over to the video store, select a film, and drive back to the house with it, the chances of me watching that movie all the way through are much higher than if I’d picked it from a list of thousands on Netflix or Amazon Prime. In fact, it’s not even close. I think in all the years that I have been renting movies from Vulcan Video, I have returned maybe two movies that I didn’t actually watch, and I think that was because I rented too many at one time and was unable to watch them before they were due back. I can’t count how many times I’ve given up on a streaming movie because I just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there’s probably something better on another streaming service. 

And while I’m at it, I’m also giving up checking a film’s Rotten Tomatoes score before committing to watching it. RT can be a valuable tool for the discerning film goer, but I’m positive I have missed out on films I might otherwise have enjoyed because their RT scores were too low. And this ties into the notion of investing in the activity of watching movies I mentioned earlier. Before RT and streaming, I think watching movies was a riskier venture. It often required an act of faith on the part of the movie fan. That didn’t always work in the fan’s favor, but there’s excitement in risk, and that used to be a part of the experience of going to the movies.

Maybe I’m a Luddite (hell, I probably am), but I’m not ready to give up on something that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. It’s not like I have anything to lose. At the very least, I’ll throw a little more support to my local video store, and maybe it’ll even get my ass out to the theater (Alamo Drafthouse, please) a few more times this year.

I’ll see you there.