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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Remember TV on the Internet Before Netflix? Neither Do We

It’s hard to remember what television on the internet was like before Netflix started streaming original programming on demand. But maybe that fact just underscores the massive influence the platform has had over the shows we watch and how we watch them. This week on Gadget Lab, Peter Kafka, cohost of season two of the Land of the Giants podcast from Recode, joins us to talk about the rise of Netflix, its influence on our culture, and how the pandemic has affected our use of the service. In the second half of the show, we broaden the discussion to talk about the state of streaming video in general, and Peter offers some advice on how to navigate the confusing trenches of the streaming wars.

Show Notes

Listen to Recode’s Land of the Giants: The Netflix Effect podcast here. Read more about HBO Max on WIRED.com. Read Kate Knibbs’ story about Palm Springs here. You can also read all of WIRED’s coverage of Netflix here. Subscribe to our new podcast Get WIRED here.


Peter recommends the show ZeroZeroZero on Amazon Prime and also Vermont. Lauren recommends the movie Palm Springs on Hulu. Mike recommends the free streaming service Kanopy.

Peter Kafka can be found on Twitter @pkafka. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our executive producer is Alex Kapelman (@alexkapelman). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

If you have feedback about the show, or just want to enter to win a $50 gift card, take our brief listener survey here.

How to Listen

You can always listen to this week's podcast through the audio player on this page, but if you want to subscribe for free to get every episode, here's how:


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Lauren Goode: Mike.

Michael Calore: Lauren.

LG: Mike, this is not how we normally open this show.

MC: Right, just saying each other's names is not the usual procedure around here, but things are going to be a little bit different going forward. Before we get into this week's show, and before we bring on Peter Kafka to talk about Netflix and the streaming wars, Lauren, I understand you have an announcement.

LG: Yes. I'm very excited to announce that starting July 20, we're going to be releasing a new podcast every week called Get WIRED. It's a weekly narrative show that's going to explore the bizarre world of technology that we all live in right now. It's going to feature a lot of our colleagues on the WIRED staff, our fellow WIRED writers, who are incredibly smart and working on some really incredibly compelling stories. And they're going to pull back the curtain on those stories that they're working on. I'm going to be the host, so I'm really excited. We've been working on this for a while now, and I'm thrilled to be able to just, I don't know, launch it to the world, I guess.

MC: What would you say to the loyal Gadget Lab listener who is now horrified that you are hosting another podcast on WIRED?

LG: I would tell them that they need not fear. I'm not going far. I mean, I'm literally not going far because we're all still at home, but I'm still going to be cohosting the Gadget Lab with my friend Mike here. And Mike, there are also some changes to Gadget Lab that are coming, right?

MC: Right. We're going to have some new segments that we're going to be introducing. We're going to make the show a little bit more about buying recommendations and a little bit more about consumer products. We're going to be talking about consumer choice. In general, the show is just going to be more focused on the words that are in the title, the Gadget Lab. So we're going to make it more of a gadget-focused show.

Over the last however many months, we've been talking a lot about the pandemic, and we've been bringing on science writers, and we've been bringing on people to talk about political situation in Facebook, and we're going to be doing less of that and more of what the show originally was now that we have this new outlet for all of those big meaty topics.

LG: Although we might still talk about Facebook from time to time, yes?

MC: From time to time.

LG: Safe to say, yeah, Facebook's kind of a big product.

MC: Yeah, kind of a big product. We'll talk a lot about Portal.

LG: That's right. You might have also noticed that the Gadget Lab has new art. I love this art, don't you, Mike?

MC: Yeah. The robot blowing the bubble.

LG: Maybe we should ask our listeners, what do you want to hear from the Gadget Lab? What do you want us to talk about? What are your consumer tech questions? Do you have tips for us? Do you want to rant or rave about a product? We want to hear it all. So tweet at us at Gadget Lab. We still have the same handle.

MC: I actually just turned on the notifications for that Twitter account on my phone. So every time somebody tweets at us, it shows up on my screen. So you will be shooting your suggestions directly into my eyeballs. Just take solace in that. All right. Well, Lauren, thank you for the announcement. Good luck with Get WIRED. It's going to be amazing. Look forward on Monday. It's going to show up in this feed for this podcast, and it's going to have its own feed. So just the first episode will show up. If you're a Gadget Lab subscriber, you'll be able to listen and then hopefully you will decide that it's for you. And then you can subscribe to every other episode of Get WIRED after that. All right. Now let's get on with the show. OK.

[Intro theme music]

MC: Welcome to Gadget Lab, everyone. I am Michael Calore, a senior editor at WIRED. I am joined as usual by my cohost WIRED senior writer, Lauren Goode.

LG: Hey, Mike.

MC: Hi, Lauren. We're also joined today by a senior correspondent at Recode, Peter Kafka.

Peter Kafka: Hey, guys.

MC: Hey, Peter. Peter is the cohost along with Rani Molla of the new season of Recode's podcast Land of the Giants, a show that covers big tech companies that define our current era. Season two is about the rise of Netflix. It details the company's humble beginnings, its very odd corporate culture, and how the service grew to dominate the entertainment industry. Peter, it's hard to imagine the media space today without Netflix, but for a long time, it was a second- or even third-tier player. Why did Netflix seem so unlikely to succeed in the beginning?

PK: Well, first of all, Netflix was unlikely to succeed because it was a startup. It was classic startup in a strip mall in a valley that was taking on Blockbuster. It was tiny, tiny, tiny, and it's hard to imagine how big Blockbuster was back when Netflix started, but it was a giant. And so, no one ever thought Netflix would take down Blockbuster, and that includes the CEO of Netflix who tried to sell the company to Blockbuster and was rebuffed. So even Netflix didn't think Netflix would get rid of Blockbuster.

It did, which we detail. We have spent a whole episode on that. But even then, after Netflix had pushed out Blockbuster, it was still seen as a distributor, because that's what it was. It was distributing other people's stuff. That is how Hollywood viewed it, the same way they'd viewed a Walmart or anyone else who took their stuff and got it to the end customer. What Netflix did that the other media companies didn't understand for a long time was, because Netflix had an established relationship with its customers over the internet, it was in a position to be much more powerful than the media companies it was working with.

We could spend episode after episode talking about how it did all this in plain view of the media companies, but the media companies enabled Netflix for a long time without understanding what they were doing. I think it's a fascinating story, and that's why we're spending seven hours on it.

LG: Peter, I listened to episode two recently. I think I'm three episodes into Land of the Giants, and episode two was all about this rivalry with Blockbuster in the early days, and it's painful to listen to. There are some missteps, there's some external forces, like Blockbuster had a lot of debt, and then the 2008 crisis happened. But at the same time, they're firing the one guy who knows how online distribution works and doubling down on retail at a time when online streaming is on the upswing. Is this like a Coca-Cola business case? Is it Coke or Coca-Cola. It's New Coke, right? That was the famous business case. Is this a business case that people are going to study for years to come when they think about disruption?

PK: I think they are. I think there actually is a bunch of Harvard Business Review stuff that we even cite here. The thing you and I are used to, and probably Mike as well, reading and telling stories about how a nimble, digital disruptor comes up and tackles the giant who's not ready to take it on. And that is what happened here, except that Blockbuster actually, in many ways, did a great job of taking on Netflix. There were people at Blockbuster, including one of its CEOs, who understood what was happening and had a plan to take on Netflix, and they could have won several different times. That I think is why it's more interested in your standard tale of disruption.

LG: I highly recommend that everybody, when you're done listening to Gadget Lab, go listen to this podcast that Peter and Rani put together. By the way, we would love to have had Rani on the show as well. She's currently on maternity leave, but it's a great listen.

PK: Yeah, we don't care what order you listen to the podcasts in. You can listen to them when you listen to every episode of Gadget Lab, and then listen to all seven of ours, just, you'll like it. Go subscribe.

LG: Netflix happens to be reporting earnings today, the day we're taping this podcast on Thursday, but we're not really going to cover those because we want to make sure that we can answer people's questions about Netflix as a service, and also all of the competitors that are cropping up these days. One thing that I keep hearing analysts say is that they're seeing a lot of upside for Netflix right now, because this year, they might get like a bajillion subscribers, and that's because everybody's sitting home during the pandemic, and that even in mature markets there's still a lot of room for growth for Netflix. My question is, how many people are subscribing right now to Netflix during the pandemic? And then, if life ever goes back to "normal," how many people will drop off because we all get to go hang out with each other again?

PK: One thing we know is that 9 million more people than Netflix expected signed up in March, which is an extraordinary number, because they were expecting 7 million people to sign up for three quarters, and they got 60 million. I won't walk you through the earnings, but basically in March when the global shutdown basically kicked in, 9 million people went home and said, "Oh, I'm going to subscribe to Netflix." We don't know if they'll all stick through. We don't know if there are other people who, over the next few months, also had not subscribed to Netflix and found themselves at home. So we'll see what the numbers look like, and Netflix isn't sure what those numbers are going to look like.

We do know that Netflix is in a much better position than any of the streaming services, and frankly, any of the other TV networks, because it has been spending so much on content that it has tons and tons and tons of stuff to burn through. It's not an unlimited amount. One day they will run out of new shows, but they've got a lot. Whereas your traditional networks, and then a lot of the companies that were launching to take on Netflix, whether it's Disney+, or Apple, or HBO, planned on having new stuff to show off as they launched or the first few months after the launch, and they can't get that stuff to you because they can't make it.

MC: One of the things you talk about on your show is the fact that Netflix is largely responsible for the bingeing phenomenon. They were one of the first services to drop all of the episodes in a series at once. People could just sit there and watch like 17 hours straight and never take a break. Very early on, we all started questioning whether or not Netflix was good for your health, both mentally and physically, to just sit there and just watch television for hours and hours on end.

We're all familiar with the screen that asks us, "Are you still watching this show?" after a certain amount of time, as a check-in. Maybe you fell asleep while you were watching something. Now that we're all inside and we're all streaming, at least in my home, more than ever, I'm just curious on your thoughts about how those bingeing habits have changed over the last few months.

PK: I don't know that they have. We know that, according to Netflix and everyone else, usage rate for video is way up. It makes sense. You're at home, you're watching video. Sadly, for podcasters that usage rate has not gone way up. I think we're back to where we were at because our habits all got changed. Rani and I, mostly Rani, tried to figure out whether Netflix was actually bad for your health, and there's basically no science on it that we could track down. It's certainly not a great thing to sit and watch unlimited amounts of TV.

Netflix did not invent sitting and watching TV for hours on end, by the way. I think Americans were fully capable of doing that on their own. They were literally watching TV for like 40 hours a week, I remember reporting back in the early days. So that hasn't changed. I think it's also interesting that most of the competitors to Netflix have not adopted that binge model. They still are rolling things out week in, week out, for varying different reasons. So Netflix has remained the one place where you can get an entire season in one day and inhale it all that way.

LG: Hey, Peter, has Netflix made any missteps during this time that you can think of? I mean, nothing's going to quite match Qwikster, but do you think there's anything else that Netflix could be doing better for customers right now?

PK: They're doing a pretty good job. I mean, I'm not fully in the tank for Netflix, but I think they're a very well run company. They had an outage, I think, in the first week or two of the pandemic for about an hour, which is very rare for them. Mostly because they were told to. Said they were going to reduce the quality of streams in Europe and some other parts of the world. If you wanted to downgrade your stream, you could. I was waiting for them to get yelled at for even …

Basically everyone went to work at home, except Netflix still has a DVD distribution business, and those people still have to actually go into DVD warehouses, that I was waiting to hear these stories you were hearing from Amazon and other internet companies that had big physical component of their business, of people complaining. We have not heard that, which doesn't mean they're not complaining. But we haven't heard about disaffected workers. So they have done a pretty good job. They've announced various funds to help Hollywood people who are out of work.

Reed Hastings personally, which isn't really a Netflix thing, has announced that he's donating more than $100 million to historically Black colleges. So some combination of good PR and actually decent management, I think, means they've done pretty well.

LG: You did mention earlier that Netflix has produced a lot of its own content in recent years. So that's great, because it has a back catalog, but production's a little bit of a dicey thing right now because of the coronavirus. We're seeing people get creative about it, but at the end of the day, it's not the volume that it was. So I wonder what happens, like does Netflix ever actually run out of original content? Does it end up leaning heavily on licensing again, which we know is expensive for it? Are we all going to be watching Schitt's Creek for the next three years?

PK: They will reach an end where they have not been able to make new stuff. On their last earnings call, I think they said that production was opening up in Iceland and maybe Korea. I know people are trying to make shows again in New Zealand, but they certainly aren't going to be able to make some stuff they were planning on making. They were making a giant Blockbuster movie with the Rock, and I don't know how to pronounce the name, Gal Gadot? Gadot? Wonder Woman. That was a big giant Marvel-size movie that has to get shut down. I mean, again, one of the advantages for them is, first of all, they're spending $15 billion a year on content, so they have purchased and produced a lot of stuff over the last couple of years.

One thing I think that will also play to their benefit is they make a lot of stuff, local language stuff, for audiences that are in Spain and Turkey and whomever. Then what they have said for years is this stuff travels. We make a show that's aimed at the Icelandish market—Icelandish, is that a word?—Icelandic market. And it turns out it plays well here and there, and we do subtitles, and we spend a lot of time on dubbing. And so, I think what you will start seeing is stuff that was made for non-US markets picking up steam in the US.

Money Heist is one they always point to that's a Spanish show that travels really well. There's a show right now that shows up in the top 10 or at least was a top 10 last week. I think it's called. I can't remember what it's called. But it's soft-core Polish pornography. I can't remember what it's called, and I have not seen it, but it was briefly one of the most popular Netflix pieces of content in the last few weeks. It doesn't say, "This is Polish soft-core pornography," and apparently it doesn't need to because people have figured it out on their own. So more Polish soft-core porn is the way to go.

LG: Are you sure that that wasn't just in your feed, like it was being recommended to you specifically?

PK: That was top 10 in the US.

MC: I have noticed that there's more and more foreign shows showing up that are being recommended to me. It might just be because I watch foreign shows. But also the mechanics of that format are bleeding through into the content for me. Like when I'm watching a show and I notice that it has a lot of voice-over, especially like the first half-hour show, maybe like five minutes of voice-over in that show. My brain is thinking that, well, the reason they're doing that is so that they can have somebody speaking the native language of the person who's watching it as the voice-over, which is better drawing you into the show, especially if the rest of the show is either subtitled or dubbed, because you may be turned off if just people are talking and you notice that they're dubbed or they're subtitled. But if it's voice-over and then you don't notice that barrier, that it draws you into the show a little bit more.

PK: That is some 4-D chess right there, I'm not sure I can process it. I do know they spend a lot of time on voice-over stuff. They let us tape a voice-over session. I think we're going to include some audio of that in a future episode. It's something they take seriously and spend a lot of time on. I'm more of a subtitle guy myself.

MC: Same here. I was really surprised to learn that Netflix will change the artwork that it presents to you in the app, based on your own preferences. I didn't realize that. I noticed the artwork was changing, but I thought it was just that they were changing it to update what's currently happening in the story. Like a new famous actor shows up in the show, then they show you a picture of that famous actor. For a long time, I was only seeing artwork that indicated that there was a lot of sex on the show. Now I tend to see artwork that is just A-list stars.

PK: Yeah. The Netflix personalization, we spent an episode on that, is fascinating to me. I assumed, because I've been covering tech forever, that Netflix tracked me in the same way that Google and Facebook and Twitter either tracks me or aspires to track me, and they say that's not true. They have a ton of information about me, but it's only about what I'm watching on Netflix. Did I click on this show? How long did I watch it for, how is that similar to other shows? They don't technically know my race, gender, age, anything else like that. I assume they did. They don't.

What they're constantly trying to do is calibrate, all right, what do we think this person who we're not really sure who that is, wants to see next? They're guessing, but they've got a lot of data to inform their guesses, and in terms of the way they change those thumbnail images on their homescreens, think of it as you're going through a grocery store. It's the same selection of cereal that you'd always see, but they're constantly adding different box colors and stuff, just to get that box in front of you and to grab your attention.

Obviously, it's creepy to have a service watching what you watch, but there's 200 million people who seem relatively comfortable with it. And that's the bargain we're making willingly or unwillingly these days.

MC: All right. Well, we're going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we're going to talk about the rest of the streaming world.


MC: All right, welcome back. The streaming revolution promised to end our reliance on the cable companies, to free us from the expensive packages that bundled up a few shows we wanted with thousands that we don't. It also let us watch whatever we want whenever we want, without all the extra mess. But now the streaming space has become its own mess of expensive competitors with their own exclusive content. It's like cable TV all over again, except even more confusing. Peter, I would like to ask you, the expert, how did we get here?

PK: I can get there, but I will say, I think we are still way, way better off than we used to be. If you think about 10 years ago and you wanted to watch TV, you had to get cable. You didn't technically have to get cable, you basically had to get cable. You got one package, you had no choice over what you paid for that. You could spend more if you wanted to get HBO and other channels, and that was it. What we didn't get, which a lot of us fantasized about was, "I just want to watch this show or this network. Let me just pay for that. I just want to watch ESPN. I don't want to pay for anything else." We're not there, and we've gone, I think, backward from there, because the TV networks really don't want us to have that option.

One of the reasons they're all consolidating is they want to have the capacity to make us buy as much TV as possible, and they're winning that fight temporarily. But you still can pick and choose what you want to watch. It is way easier to do that if you decide, like me, that you want to watch The Good Fight, which is the sequel to The Good Wife on CBS All Access. It's not very hard to figure out how to do that. You can sign up and watch all of the shows and probably get it for free for a month, frankly, and then turn it off. You can toggle this stuff on and off if you want, is what I'm saying. And it is still a much better version of TV than the one we were looking at 10 years ago. It's not the fantasy we all had 10 years ago, but it's not bad. How's that for preamble?

MC: Perfect.

PK: In terms of why we're there, I mentioned it. You probably noticed, if you listen to a show like this, that all of the big media companies are consolidating. They're doing that, in part, actually, because they're trying to take on Netflix. But another reason is they want more and more power when it comes to making deals with the distributors. Those used to be companies like Comcast that gave you a traditional cable TV. Now they include Comcast as well as the Apples and YouTubes and Hulus of the world.

That's also one of the reasons why, and I don't know how far you want to get into this, a couple of years ago, there was these things called Virtual. I won't even tell you what this terrible acronym was called. It was called VMPD. The idea was you were going to get a smaller bundle of cable channels for $20, $30, $40 a month. Sounded great. What's been happening over the last couple years is those bundles are getting bigger and bigger, and not surprisingly, the prices are going up and up. It's still cheaper than traditional cable, but less and less.

And so, the idea that you were going to be able to pick and choose a handful of channels is going away, in part because the TV networks don't want that to happen and they are consolidating and getting more and more bargaining power and preventing that from happening.

LG: Is that why we're also starting to see more what's known as OTT, which is a super-nerdy industry term, but over the top, aka internet streaming, more OTT bundles that include live TV. Like we're seeing like Amazon does it now, and there's YouTube TV, and Sling does this. It's not just like, pay $8 a month for a smattering of on-demand programs.

PK: Right. That's what I was talking about, these—Amazon really doesn't do it yet, but Hulu and YouTube and Sling and something called Fubo. Sony had one for a minute that no one ever used. That's gone.

MC: Yeah. Sony Vue.

PK: Yeah. Those were all supposed to be slimmed-down versions of cable TV. They were relatively popular when they were cheap. It turns out as they get more expensive, they're no longer popular. And they don't make any money for YouTube and Hulu and the companies that are selling them. The programming is still too expensive to make it worth their while. So that's not sustainable, long term. I think the same people who stopped paying for cable TV because they didn't want to pay for 200 channels, are going to eventually not pay for YouTube TV or Hulu Live because they don't want to pay for 100 channels. They want two or three.

LG: I mean, YouTube TV is ridiculously expensive.

PK: Well, YouTube TV was about 40 bucks when it came out. Now there's a recent price increase. It's about 65 bucks a month, much more expensive, still cheaper than regular cable. You still have to pay your cable TV company or someone for broadband, as all you guys know. So you're still never officially cutting the cord. Someone is bringing that pipe to you. They're terrible deals right now, in large part because one of the reasons they are so expensive is because they're paying for sports programming that does not exist.

If you watch ESPN right now, you're literally watching NBA players playing NBA videogames. And so live sports is extraordinarily expensive for the cable TV programmers. They're passing it on to you, except you're not getting any live sports right now. So those are terrible deals. Again, the upside is you can go, "You know what, Hulu, since I'm not getting any sports from you right now, I'm going to pause," which Hulu has actually even suggested back when they thought that you might be able to go in and out of sports. Like, "Maybe you're a college sports fan, so watch us in the fall and then turn us off in January." But right now there's unlikely to be any sports, any significant sports for some time. So those deals look even worse.

MC: Yeah. I've been making that prediction for a little while now, that maybe the pandemic is the thing that's going to get people to finally ditch cable, because there's no live sports. Although, the live sports packages, like you can get MLB.TV or you can get NHL games, those have a recurring charge, and I get charged for MLB.TV every year, and this year they charged me and I still haven't watched a game yet. And that's not because of …

PK: Maybe you should look into that. Yeah.

MC: Yeah. I think they said they were going to prorate it. So they're going to give us half the money back and show us one third of a season.

PK: Yeah. I mean, so much of the TV industrial complex/ecosystem is premised around live sports, and live news as well, and that's much less important. But you take sports out of it, and there's a good chance a lot of the stuff topples.

MC: I'm curious about your thoughts on HBO Max. When it was coming, I was not happy about it because it sounded like it was just a copy of Netflix, a bunch of legacy content from one of the big content houses matched with a bunch of older things that I've already seen before. When it showed up, I actually kind of like it and it's not that bad. There's a lot of stuff on there that I want to watch, especially …

PK: "HBO Max, it's not that bad," that should be their new tagline.

MC: [Laughs] You reported a bit on when that was coming and when it finally did launch. So I'm just curious to hear your thoughts on it.

PK: It is a muddled service. The company has gone back and forth about what it should be, and how much it will cost, and why someone should get it. You can see all that reflected in their rollout, which is confusing to a lot of people. Additionally, and this is something that all the new streaming services have issues with, if you're an Amazon or Roku user, that's a lot of people. It's basically impossible to get it right now. NBC is going through that same thing with Peacock. That'll all get resolved. That's just a money debate in the end.

But the main idea behind HBO Max was, AT&T bought Time Warner in large part because they wanted HBO, and then announced that HBO, which has about 40 million subscribers in the US, is not big enough in a Netflix world where Netflix now has 200 million subscribers around the world. And they were going to need a lot more stuff to attract a lot more viewers. That is what HBO Max is supposed to be. It is HBO plus a bunch of other stuff. That's my tagline for it.

It's very hard to tell someone why they should get it. There is odds and ends. Right now it doesn't matter because it's the same price as HBO. So if you liked HBO, you're getting this anyway. Eventually, you can see where they're going with this. They want to charge more for HBO Max and make HBO a subchannel within that. But they're not in position to do that right now. Eventually, they will also have one that has advertising, and that will presumably cost less than the one we're paying full price for. You're shaking your head.

I am also surprised at the number of services that have advertising in them in a Netflix world where you'd never see an ad. I will say there is some interest, partly on consumers and partly very much on the TV networks in the services that are ad-supported. Some of them are free, like Pluto, which is owned by Viacom, and now Tubi, which is, as of this spring, owned by 21st Century Fox. There certainly is a segment of the population that either doesn't have the capacity to pay for stuff without ads or doesn't mind and they'll put up with it.

LG: One of the things I did during this shelter-in-place time period that I regret, is I canceled the bundle. I'd been anti-bundle for a while. I didn't like the idea, and the whole—it felt like too much of a commitment, like, "Get this phone service, wireless service, and then you get Netflix." In this case, it was Hulu and Spotify. I opted into a Hulu and Spotify bundle, and I canceled it because I didn't think that I wanted Spotify Premium anymore. That was a huge mistake, everybody. Spotify with ads experience is fairly terrible.

Then I was like, "I don't want to watch Hulu anymore." Then it turns out I really needed Spotify Premium. I've shopped around for other bundles. Anyway, all the free trials, I'd used up, expired. I ended up paying for Spotify again. Then I wanted to watch the new Andy Samberg movie on Hulu last weekend. And I was like, "Damn it, I should have just kept that bundle," because it was a pretty good deal. I think it was like either $10 a month for both or something like that.

Then I ended up asking a friend to borrow her Hulu login, which is ultimately what I did. That's a long way of saying or asking, one, what is the future of bundles and, two, do these services know when we all start sharing our logins?

PK: They do know about login sharing. They're all relatively cool with it. Then, over time, they will try to crack down on it. But all of them, including Netflix, are still in grow, grow, grow mode, and they just want more people watching the stuff, aware of the stuff. They're not very worried about sharing right now. So share freely, if you can, and if you want to. It's not preventing anyone from being employed. Yeah, you'll see these bundles, they're all marketing. They're all marketing plans.

Generally, the idea is, you have a smaller service that wants more distribution. So they find a way to team up with another service that is more widely distributed. The music services all thought this was going to be a genius idea. Years ago, they were going to bundle themselves with the actual wireless carriers, and that's kind of worked but has also gone away. You see services that are not successful, like Luminary, the subscription podcast service. Their plan is to find some wireless carrier to help promote them.

You will have to sort through this on your own. Again, it's a minor drag, but you could Google this stuff. You can figure out what's on. You can watch that Andy Samberg movie, which I hear is great, and then decide not to watch it. One thing that I was fascinated by this week was that apparently you cannot get a free trial right now for Disney+. And the reason you can't is because they've got Hamilton. You can see the logic there is, "We know there's a lot of people who want to watch Hamilton. What we don't want to do is give them Hamilton for free and let them churn out of it and unsubscribe."

So if you want to watch Hamilton on Disney+, which you really should, it's really great, I just watched it again, you will have to shell out at least seven bucks for a month. Then of course, what all these services are hoping is, once you subscribe, like Mike and his MLB package, you just stick with it and forget to turn this stuff off.

MC: Yeah. All this stuff that we're talking about, we're calling it television, and we all watch it on our televisions. But there's a lot of people who watch it on their laptop, or on their iPad, or even their phone. Now, I know that a lot of filmmakers and a lot of people who work at these companies in Hollywood would shudder to think that anybody would watch their beautiful creation on something that is the size of their smartphone. But it's increasingly becoming a great way for people to watch stuff in their bed, while they're out walking around, whatever.

There have even been some services that have tried to make things specifically for the phone, and I can't think of one that succeeded. Do you think that anybody's going to be able to crack that phone?

PK: Well, I think they have cracked the phone. It turns out that people are very comfortable watching stuff on their phone. You don't need to convince them to do it. We don't need to spend a ton of time dunking on Quibi. Maybe you guys have already done that, but their thesis was people don't have good stuff to watch on their phones, and that's just demonstrably untrue, because all these services we're talking about work well on your phone. And if you want to watch it on your phone, you can. It works pretty damn well.

Netflix put out some stats a couple of years ago—I assume they are mostly still correct—which said that 70 percent of their viewers, over time, maybe in the first few months it's different, but eventually once you've had Netflix for six months, you're watching it, most of the stuff, at home on your TV. That given the choice, people still prefer to watch this stuff on the best, biggest screen possible. I'm sure that is different depending on demographics. I'm sure there's kids who are watching it on their phones, so they don't have to watch with Mom and Dad.

But it's a long-winded way of saying this stuff works pretty well on your phone. I've got a big, honking, an iPhone X. Works great for watching stuff in my bed. I'm going to name-drop here. I was able to cause Steven Soderbergh to be dismayed when I told him I'd watched one of his things recently on a phone. I would have preferred to watch it on TV, but I was on a plane and that's how I was going to watch it. And it works just fine. I think that is a problem we have solved.

MC: Yeah. It's old thinking versus new thinking, I think.

PK: Yeah. I mean, what is interesting to think about is whether or not you're going to see creators making stuff with the idea that it is going to be consumed on a phone before something else. When I do talk to people who make stuff for Netflix, sometimes they will talk about that a little bit. But in general, it's all supposed to work on whatever size screen you want.

MC: They should watch all of their stuff on the phone to make sure it translates well, because like if you're making a record, if you're making an album, you listen to it on a bad stereo, on a good stereo. You listen to it in your car, all the places that you know that people are going to listen to it. You listen to it through crappy earphones that come in the box when you buy a phone. So they should be dogfooding that.

PK: When I used to write more about the music business, the thing I would always end up doing was, I'd go meet some executive. At some point, they'd say, "Oh, you've got to hear this." No matter how big their office was, they had giant freaking speakers, and they would blast it. And you have to sit there and nod politely. I kept thinking, "No one I know has these stereo setups," at least not in New York City. No one listens to music like this. You should give me a pair of shitty AirPods and let me listen to it that way. So I agree with you, Mike. That's how you should dogfood it.

LG: I don't think we've spent a lot of time dunking on Quibi. Have we, Mike?

MC: I think we have been not talking about Quibi, which is equivalent to dunking on it, ignoring it.

LG: I mean, I'm not paying for it. Are you?

MC: No, it's so expensive.

PK: I paid for it accidentally. I signed up for the trial and then was expecting to get a reminder saying, "Hey, Quibi is going to charge you in a minute" but didn't get it. I just got a bill. Then I turned it off.

MC: Wait, you're telling me that a subscription service did not build it into their UI to remind you to unsubscribe?

PK: I seem to remember Apple being much more proactive in telling you that, hey, you've got this thing coming up. You better unsubscribe if you don't want to pay for it. And I may just be fantasizing, that never happened. But Apple is very much in the "We would like you to subscribe in to Quibi and lots of other services because we get a cut of it, business." If you are someone like us who is sloppily signed up for a bunch of stuff over time, you should go back and check your subscriptions, because you might be paying for something you didn't realize.

MC: Well, Peter, you actually did get a reminder from Quibi, but you were holding your phone in the wrong orientation so you didn't see it.

PK: That's a deep Quibi cut.

MC: All right. Well, let's take a quick break. And then when we come back, we'll do our recommendations.


MC: All right. Welcome back. Peter, what is your recommendation?

PK: Can I do two? They're super quick.

MC: Sure.

PK: OK. On TV, what we used to call TV, Amazon Prime has a show called ZeroZeroZero. It's an eight-episode, beautiful, gorgeous, incredibly dark, incredibly pessimistic, incredibly nihilistic, guns, mafia, Mexican drug cartel story. Gabriel Byrne is in it and a bunch of actors you've never heard of, and it's gorgeous. It has a soundtrack by a band, Mogwai. If you're someone who likes to get high, that's a great show to watch and listen to. It's a real bummer, and it's great. Then I can also highly endorse Vermont, where I spent the last week on vacation. It's six hours from New York City and beautiful.

MC: Also a great place to go if you like to get high.

PK: Medical only is what I discovered when I was there.

MC: I went to college in Vermont, so hard endorse.

PK: I was all in.

MC: All right, Lauren, what is your recommendation?

LG: My recommendation is a film that I mentioned earlier in the show. It's the new Andy Samberg movie on Hulu called Palm Springs, and our colleague Kate Knibbs wrote about this for WIRED last week so we will link to that review of the film in the show notes, but I found it to be just a delightful little two-hour slice of escapism. I'll tell you quickly about the premise. The premise is basically Groundhog Day for the millennial generation who has to go to a lot of weddings or at least went to a lot of weddings in the before times.

Andy Samberg gets stuck in a time loop at a wedding. It's great. You figure out what's going on early on because he gives this remarkable speech about a couple he barely knows, and then you realize that he's just been doing it night after night after night after night. And, of course, there's a love interest, and that actress is great too. Her name is Cristin Milioti. I think I'm pronouncing that correctly, but yeah, go check it out. Palm Springs on Hulu, if you happen to subscribe to Hulu in your list of many services that you could possibly subscribe to right now.

PK: Or hit up Lauren and get her password.

LG: Or my friend's password. Yeah. I'm sure she won't mind me sharing it very widely with our Gadget Lab audience.

MC: You should just speak it right now on the show.

LG: Oh, yes.

PK: "Password."

LG: Mike, first what's your password? Second, what's your recommendation?

MC: Not telling my password. My recommendation is Kanopy. That's Kanopy with a K. It's a streaming service, much like Netflix. It started out as a DVD service but primarily serving the educational market. They would supply universities and schools with documentaries and educational programming. It has grown into a really nice video-on-demand service. And it's also grown from just the educational market to public libraries. So if you have a library card, you can sign up for Kanopy and you can watch 15 pieces of content a month for free on your Apple TV, or your Roku, or your computer, or your iPad, or even your phone. And it's really nice.

They have a lot of great stuff from Criterion, and they have a ton of documentaries, a lot of stuff that has previously aired on PBS, and including some things that are probably quite surprising to you to think that you can get it through the library, content of an adult nature. So it's really good. It's free and you've got to try it. Just dip in. As long as you have a library card, you can check it out.

LG: Sounds great.

PK: OK. I just Googled the name of the Netflix softcore Polish porn. It's called 365 Days. I can't recommend it. I haven't seen it. But apparently has naked people. That's my bonus recommendation.

MC: That's it. Are they just showing you the naked people on the artwork and the thumbnail because they know that's what you're into?

PK: They don't. It does not say there are naked people in here, at least when I saw it. But you guys are smart. You'll figure it out.

MC: All right. Well, that is our show. Thanks again to Peter Kafka for joining us.

PK: Thanks guys. Thanks for having me.

LG: Peter, tell people how they can watch your podcast. [Laughs] "Watch."

PK: You should definitely try to watch my podcast on Hulu. If you can't find it there, because it doesn't exist, you should go to Apple or Spotify or anywhere that distributes podcasts and look up Land of the Giants. You may have to dig, because there's two seasons of it. My colleague Jason Del Ray did a series about Amazon, but we're there. We are four episodes in. It's free. Enjoy.

MC: Wonderful. All right. Well, thank you all for listening. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter. Just check the show notes. This show is produced by Boone Ashworth. Our executive producer is Alex Kapelman, and don't forget to check our new show with Lauren as the host. It's called Get WIRED, and it will show up in this feed and elsewhere on WIRED on Monday, July 20. Thank you. We'll be back next week.

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