As much as we like to pretend otherwise, nothing lasts forever. Even works of art meant to outlive any mere mortal aren’t immune to this fate: Libraries can burn down or close, film strips disintegrate, and Snapchat messages self-destruct. The internet gives nearly everyone access to infinitely more content than has ever been available before, but that hasn’t solved this media preservation problem, and in some ways is making it worse.
When it comes to saving online streaming video for upcoming generations, the future looks bleak. However, it’s not too late. We have the technology and the power to preserve streaming art, and we must act now.
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Our world is hostile toward the very idea of art preservation, and now the problem has come for the latest craze: online streaming video services. Once a rising star that promised to transform the entire entertainment industry, the streaming video bubble has just about burst. After reaching its peak, Netflix is on the decline. Other studios that saturated the market with competing services have now realized that they need to make money, not just spend money to woo new subscribers.
The most notable recent example of this comes from the ongoing drama surrounding HBO Max. After recently merging with Discovery, the new conglomerate seems determined to burn down all the goodwill it’s built up over decades as it replaces prestige for reality show trash. This priority shift is so extreme that not only are nearly finished movies (like Batgirl) getting canceled for tax write-offs, but existing shows (like Infinity Train) are being removed from the service for not being “popular” enough. While we can’t advocate for anything illegal, artists are feeling so burned that they’re recommending piracy to fans. If no one gets paid either way, you might as well at least make sure your work gets seen.
HBO Max’s dilemma is an especially extreme example, but this is the norm for video streaming services. Their libraries change all the time for licensing and broadcasting reasons. But as streaming services go from a supplemental service to our main form of home entertainment, it’s becoming more obvious and alarming as to just how powerless we are, viewers and creators alike, to save what inevitably gets lost.
(Credit: HBO Max)
I don’t want to overly romanticize the past. Through ignorance, carelessness, or events beyond anyone’s control, it’s said that half of all American films made before 1950 are lost. Even in the second half of the 20th century, once a movie …….