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Why is the streaming experience so awful?

Wasn't streaming supposed to make things easier?

Photograph of a television featuring different streaming apps
Image credit: Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

It's the end of a long day. You're ready to sit back and relax and pull up your favorite streaming service... and somehow you've been logged out. What was your password again? Oh, you need to sign in with your computer? Alright. Time to get back up and figure out a way to get back into the app.

Once you're in the app, things don't get better. Where exactly was that show that you were halfway through? If you're lucky, it hasn't completely left the service and is just hidden five rows below whatever the app is trying to get you to watch today. And if you don't know what you're gonna watch? Well, be prepared to scroll. Nielsen shared this year that it takes an audience member on average just a tad over ten minutes to find something to watch on a streaming service.

It seems bizarre that nearly a decade after Netflix began streaming, streaming apps are so difficult to use. You'd think that, with all those years of data, the programs would be better at suggesting what to watch next (is my memory warped, or was Netflix once very good at this?) and how to find movies and TV shows in the oeuvre that you're in the mood to watch. And that's before we even get to the technical hurdles of bundles and apps that constantly sign you out (I'm looking at you Max). It feels like, more than ever, it's gotten wildly difficult to sit down and simply get something on the screen to watch.

As streaming services start to hit the wall of stalled subscriber growth, and audiences begin to rotate between services instead of having multiple subscriptions, it seems like one obvious way to keep audiences is to just make it easier to use your app. After wrangling with one fiddly sign in page too many, I know that I've begun to make more streaming decisions based on an app's ease of use as opposed to quality of library or even new content. It's easy, in the haze of having to deal with all these annoying apps, to feel nostalgic for the times when I could just turn on the TV and watch something.

Is it taking longer to choose something to stream? Here's the data.

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