By Lindsey Marx
February 24th, 2020
One of my most favorite Christmas traditions started when I was in junior high. My parents decided one year to do "Secret Santa/12 Days" where we would all go to the store and pick out 12 items to give to a family in need. We loved looking through the Chirstmas decorations, smelling the candles, looking at the lights, and trying samples of christmas cookies and treats. We would each pick out a few items, and made sure to have 12 in total. The rule was to include at least one item that represented the true meaning of christmas and we would try to look for an ornament of a manger or somthing similar. Then, we would wrap each individual gift and leave a note saying "On the first day of Christmas, Santa gave to _____" and leave the family's name. Then we would sneak up to the door, leave the gift, ring the doorbell, and run as fast as we could back to the car. It was so much fun, and as we approached Christmas Eve, being the 12th day of Christmas, we would have to get super sneaky, sometimes waiting until 1 or 2 a.m. to leave the gift so we wouldn't get caught. In the last few years, it's gotten very difficult with Ring door bells making it a challenge to not be caught. But innovation and challenges spark creativity so we will see what happens with this Christmas tradition! What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Do they include homemade goodies, cozzying up to a holiday movie, or creating ornaments as a family? Check out some unique and fun christmas traditions. Let us know which traditions are your family's favorite on our social media polls! Food "Baking Christmas cookies is one of our main activities before the holiday. We buy a lot of decorations and make different types of Christmas cookies. When we first started, we only made cookies for ourselves. However, we’ve noticed that all of our friends and family loved them, so we made tiny gift baskets out of our Christmas cookies. Now, we make enormous quantities and share them around the neighborhood and among each other. " — Tony Arevalo, Carsurance.net "Now that we're all older, our traditions have changed a bit. We mostly drink Christmasy cocktails and eat our favorite foods on Christmas Eve (deviled eggs, grinders, meatballs, shrimp cocktail, and other finger foods). " — Alicia Butler, NYC in a Day "I like to make my mom's secret chili recipe and have dinner on the couch next to the tree. We MUST watch the original Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph movies that I grew up with (the new ones just aren't the same!) or it just doesn't feel like Christmas. " — Kara Harms, Whimsey Soul "We make homemade waffles and homemade ice cream for christmas breakfast." — Ben Smith, Marketing Content Specialist Activities "On Christmas Day, I exchange stocking stuffers with my parents before heading to my sister's house to give my niece and nephew their presents." — Butler "As it turns out my daughter as she was growing up (she’s a freshman in college now) always tended to obsess over different holiday movies in different stages of her childhood and would listen and sing to the movie's soundtracks long after Christmas had come and gone. Usually some holiday movie would be “the one” for a year or two before she discovered something new. (Elf was clearly the all-time winner… Thank god it had a great soundtrack…Ha!) We’d laugh as she was singing and humming Christmas tunes from the movie on the beach at Spring Break for example. Ha! For that reason I would always make a point of making sure that I had learned the chord changes to a tune or two from her fav holiday movie of that year so that when we’d get to the next year I would start playing one of those tunes and she’d be thrilled and fired up and excited to sing along. We still are doing it today and it brings up really great memories for all of us from different eras as she was growing up. It’s a real hoot and we all love it!" — Scott Houston, Houston Enterprises "On Christmas morning we all agree for a time to wake up. Then we'll head downstairs to see the hall flooded with gifts and go to our family room to open them. My mom plays Santa and hands out the gifts, making sure we go around the circle and each gets a turn to open. We'll play Christmas music in the background and it's a very cozy sight!" — Ciara Hautau, Fueled.com Decorations "Every year we go to the same Christmas tree farm in Connecticut as a whole family and search around the huge farm for the best tree. My mom is a very picky about her trees so it will take quite a bit of time and ends up with us each at a different quadrant of the farm to hold trees we think are worthy. At the end, we celebrate by gathering around the fire they have at the farm and ordering hot apple cider and apple cider donuts." — Hautau Movies "My family's Christmas traditions pretty much revolve around Christmas movies. We have a list of classics we watch each year and some newer ones that have made it into the rotation. " — Butler "My husband and I have been married for 19 years and have always LOVED Christmas! As the years have rolled on and our family has grown to include a son and a daughter, our traditions have evolved to be one of the most meaningful parts of the year. Christmas movies in particular play a huge part in our annual rituals, starting with the decorating of the tree (and occasionally, the cat…) whilst watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas (our daughter singing ‘You’re a mean one, Mr Grinch!” at the top of her lungs) through baking gingerbread to have with hot, hot, hot chocolate during the Polar Express (our son leaping off the furniture in ecstatic dance mode) and culminating with the pinnacle of Christmas delight, The Muppet Christmas Carol, watched with almost holy reverence every Christmas Eve at sundown, whilst tucking into our traditional feast of homemade sausage rolls and pickles. Every year these moments become more and more special, and I’m sure we will continue to add to our traditions as the children grow." — Kath Gilbert, Writer "Every year my family and I watch A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve and we have some sort of Chinese food as they did in the movie. Some years we have gone out for Chinese food Christmas Eve. Other years we’ve cooked a feast at home for friends and added spring rolls. It’s a funny way to add a nod to the movie. We also remember that not every holiday meal and party is perfect but that we are together.” — Kristy Richardson, Writer "We've done this since we've been kids — probably because it's on non-stop on TNT. But it's one of my favorite traditions. We'll put Christmas music on all day, bake cookies, and then enjoy the cookies while watching A Christmas Story. This tradition really brings me back to the good old days of our childhood and always makes me feel at home." — Hautau "Christmas movies are a holiday staple for many families, and mine is no exception! Every year, on Christmas Eve, my family will read, and then watch, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original animated short movie specifically). And then on Christmas the next day, while opening presents, we catch A Christmas Story playing on TBS’s 24-hour movie marathon. Throughout the season, we watch countless other Christmas films and shows, between the Hallmark Christmas movies on TV, and Freeform’s “25 Days of Christmas” as well." — Jennie Neylon, Content Writer "In early December, we mix up Moscow Mules, put on a classic movie we've all seen a bunch, like Harry Potter or Christmas with the Kranks, and decorate the tree together. The days leading up to Christmas are my favorites, though. More nights than not, we'll pick out a new cheesy holiday movie, like The Christmas Prince, pop open a bottle of wine, turn the tree lights on, and gather on the couch together. " — Harms Holiday traditions are great ways to connect with friends and family. We would love to hear about your family's traditions! Follow us on our social media accounts and let us know your favorite holiday traditions.
The hype is real! Disney Plus has officially launched, and Disney fanatics are going crazy over the expansive collections of titles available and the user-friendly interface. But many consumers are asking themselves some hard questions: Do I sign up for Disney Plus and cancel my other subscriptions? Do I keep my other subscriptions and sign up for Disney Plus? It is a tough decision for sure, so read on to find out what you need to know about Disney Plus to decide whether it is a wise investment for you and your family. How does Disney Plus differ from other streaming services in the following areas? Price Content Blocks Usage Price Disney Plus comes at a competitive $7 per month compared to its rivals at Netflix and other streaming services which start at $9 per month. Consumers can stream movies, shows, and originals from Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and its own studios as well as a library of vaulted classics. Consumers can also choose to prepay for a year-long subscription of $70, making it a little less than $6 per month for Disney Plus. However, for those Hulu and ESPN lovers, you will love this. If you sign up for Disney Plus, you can pay a whopping $13 per month on a bundle of Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN! This way, kids have the more filtered and family-friendly content, parents get the more adult shows, and sports lovers still get their ESPN fill. For those who are true Disney fanatics and are annual passholders, there are several different discount options especially for you making your Disney plus monthly plan as affordable as $40 per month. Here's what the experts have to say about it: “Disney+ has already crossed 10 million subscribers on its first day, and we think it will only grow from there. At $6.99 per month, it's one of the most affordable streaming services available. Furthermore, Disney is offering bundle pricing with ESPN+ and Hulu for just $13.99 a month. Disney will even credit the cost of a $5.99 Hulu subscription back to existing Hulu subscribers if they sign up for the bundle. That low price creates a minimal bar for entry to the Disney+ service. Considering Disney owns massively popular intellectual properties like Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, along with its own Disney branded content, many will be hopping on this service. In 2019, half of the top box office movies were released by Disney. Disney plans to have its movies exclusively available on Disney+. No other streaming service commands that type of exclusivity when it comes to blockbuster films. That alone is reason enough to chose Disney+ over other on-demand streaming services. Once the public sees they can only see Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and Disney films after their theatrical release on a $6.99 per month streaming service, we'll see an explosion of new Disney+ subscribers after each Disney box office hit. And newly released films are just one driver of subscribers for Disney+. The service has its own original content like the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian, along with a massive backlog of almost 500 classic films and 7,500 television episodes. Services like Netflix, Prime Video, and HBO Now will still have their place, but they are going to be making a lot of room for Disney+.” — Dennis Restauro, President at GroundedReason.com "With so many internet streaming services competing for your money, the choice for which ones to sign up for has never been tougher, but Disney+ is a worthy contender to be added into your binge-watching budget — or at least it might be in time. As far as cost goes, Disney+ is certainly one of the least expensive available for the sheer amount of popular content that you get for it. Just being able to watch from Disney’s massive library of animated and live-action content with big names like Star Wars and Marvel in the mix for only $6.99 a month would be impressive enough. But with access to 4K Ultra HD movies, up to four simultaneous streams and up to 10 devices registered at a time, Disney is seriously gunning for the position of best value in streaming, considering that you need a $15.99 Premium subscription to get those perks from Netflix." — Brian Camacho, Graduate Publisher at Finder.com Content “Disney+ can’t compete with other streaming services when it comes to original content at the moment. While there’s a ton of high-profile series in the works for the following years, right now only four — including the new big budget entry into the Star Wars universe, The Mandalorian — are available. Episodes also seem to be uploaded on a weekly basis, so if you’re looking to really sink your teeth into a new series, you might be stuck waiting for a while. There is also currently no way to adjust the streaming quality of what you’re watching, so you may end up eating through your mobile data very quickly if you’re watching on the go. Of course, there’s more than enough content to keep you satisfied while you wait. One of the best ways to find new content through Disney+ is through the “Explore” feature which curates TV and movies from a particular genre. My personal favorite is the 'Disney Through the Decades' collection, which has all of Disney’s animated and Live Action content currently available through the service sorted by order of their release, starting from 1928 with Mickey Mouse’s debut short Steamboat Willie. Adding new content to your watchlist can be a clunky experience though, since you have to click on the item of interest and hit the add to playlist button. Going back and forth between menus can end up being a nuisance if you just want to quickly fill up your streaming queue. Only time will tell if Disney can use a little of their magic to turn this, admittedly already impressive, pumpkin into the carriage that will take them to the top of the streaming TV industry, but if you’re remotely curious about the offerings of Disney+, it’s a good enough value to check out for yourself." — Givens “ It also allows for four simultaneous streams on four separate devices, more than enough to keep all your kids entertained at once. And with unlimited downloads, it's useful during the holiday season with traveling. You can download content for your kids and not have to access Wi-Fi for streaming on the road." — Chris Brantner, Streaming Expert and Founder at Streamingobserver.com Blocks “Disney+ really is the ultimate streaming service for families. The library is packed full of new and old Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic content. And unlike Netflix and similar services, parents never have to worry about their kids stumbling across adult content; the service caps ratings at PG-13.” — Brantner Usage On day one of the Disney Plus launch, Disney hit 10 million subscribers, which beats all other streaming services by miles. These subscribers enjoy four simultaneous streams at the same time. Netflix doesnt even allow for this until you reach the $16 per month tier. Almost all content is entirely downloadable up to 10 mobile or tablet devices. But there are unlimited downloads for offline viewing, so you can enjoy your movies and shows from wherever you are. Keep your family busy while shopping, traveling, and waiting in lines for the doctor. In fact, Disney made a deal with Verizon to give their wireless carriers one free year of Disney Plus. Disney Plus also allows users to have up to seven profiles for the entire family to enjoy Disney Plus and select their own favorite content to enjoy. Over 200 different avatars exist for all users to customize their experiences on Disney Plus. New research conducted by Likewise on the streaming landscape is presented in this infographic: Both infographics used with permission from Liv Allen, Codewordagency.com The bottom line "Disney+ stands out from other platforms because of the amount of quality content they have in their vault. While some streaming platforms are trying to play catch-up and put out as much content as possible, regardless of quality, Disney is able to immediately compete with mass amounts of quality titles. With the number of options in the marketplace, consumers are starting to weed out where they spend their dollars. Large players such as PlayStation Vue have already tossed in the towel." — Michael Wylie, Director of Cybersecurity Services at Richey May Technology Solutions Disney Plus has a wide selection of features and benefits for a lower price compared to its competitors. Only time will tell what happens next in the streaming world!
Maybe it’s your first time binging or maybe you’re a veteran at it but are ready to take your viewing experience to the next level. Binge watching a TV show or movie series means to quickly make your way through several episodes (or several seasons). This can mean to watch several episodes in one sitting, or watching lots of episodes over several days. However experienced you are in television viewing or online streaming, here are some tips and tricks to make the most of your experience: 1. Use Netflix category codes. You can search by title on Netflix, but you can also search by genre. This is done by using “category codes” which are numeric. For example, if you type “10118” into the Netflix search bar, you’ll pull up all the comic book and superhero movies. 2. Use your phone as a remote. If you’re using a streaming tool like Roku or Apple TV, you can download an app that will allow your phone to act as the remote. With your phone as your control, you’re much less likely to misplace it as you can call it to find it. 3. Use blue light blocking glasses. Some people get headaches when they look at screens for too long and find that it’s helpful to use blue light blocking glasses. These are non-prescription and filter out the blue toned light that comes from screens and strains your eyes. A sturdy pair will cost you $10–$30. 4. Pick the right streaming service. There are so many streaming options to choose from, check out our ranking and reviews of top streaming companies to find the best one for you. 5. Multi-task. Don’t have time to binge? Binge while you’re doing household chores such as folding laundry, washing the dishes, or even cleaning the bathroom. 6. Do a face mask. If you’re already going to be sitting still, pamper yourself at the same time. While you’re sitting there, paint your nails as well. 7. Binge at the gym. You don’t have to be sitting. Pull up a show on your phone or iPad while you’re on a stationary exercise machine such as a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical, or step machine. 8. Watch on a portable device. If you are watching your favorite show on a phone, tablet, or laptop, you can take it anywhere. 9. Pick a great show. You can find good shows by asking your friends what they like to watch, finding reviews on the internet, watching an award winning series, or looking in the popular or trending categories on your streaming service. 10. Don’t stick with it if you’re not hooked. Binge watching should be an enjoyable experience. If you’re not hooked after the first episode or two, move on. There are plenty of shows to choose from. 11. Try a foreign series. Though American programming is the most prevalent in the United States, you might love a show from another country and culture. 12. Get comfortable. Spend a few minutes to set up the perfect binge watching nest. Grab your nicest blanket, some pillows, warm socks, and anything else you might need to lounge. 13. Turn your A/C on. With your room nice and cool, you can feel comfortable bundled up in your blankets. 14. Use a weighted blanket. A weighted blanket helps you feel secure and snuggled, even if you’re all by yourself. 15. Get your snacks set up. Make your popcorn, open the bag of chips, get those Oreos open, and all within arm’s reach. If you’re going to have a warm drink like hot chocolate, heat up at least two cups of water in advance so you can make a second cup quickly. With your snacks ready, you’re ready to hit play. 16. Match your snacks to the weather. If it’s cold out, have warm snacks. If it’s hot out, have cool snacks like popsicles, cool fruit, ice cream, or cold soda. 17. Opt for healthy snacks. If you’re going to be sitting and munching for a while, you’ll probably feel better about it if it’s healthy. Small fruits and veggies like baby carrots, apple slices, or grapes are great binging snacks. 18. Have dinner delivered. Order dinner by phone, online, or through a food delivery app. They’ll bring the food to you and you won’t even hardly have to hit pause. 19. Use wireless headphones. If you use wireless headphones, you can move around without worrying about being tethered to your laptop. If you aren’t going to use headphones, a nice speaker can enhance your experience. 20. Take a break between episodes. Take a minute to stretch, walk around, refill your drink, or go to the bathroom. Taking a break between episodes will help you be able to binge longer. 21. Use a home theater system. Surround sound and a nice TV take binging to the next level. 22. Use a projector. If you don’t want or can’t afford a big TV, a mini projector will cost you about $100. A mini projector can hook up to your laptop and make your shows larger than life on your wall. If you don’t have a plain white wall, tack up a white sheet. 23. Make sure the room is dark. Pull the curtains and turn off all the lights, so you can focus on what’s coming from your screen. 24. Tweet about the show. Even if you’re by yourself, you can connect to more people who like the same show by tweeting about it or posting about it on other social media sites and using the show’s hashtags. Beware of spoilers! 25. Binge with a friend. When you’re watching with a friend you can enjoy, commiserate, and celebrate together through the moments of the show. You can form inside jokes, share snacks, and split the pizza bill. 26. Talk with friends about the show. Like you would after going to the movies, talk to friends about what part they liked in the show, what they thought about the characters, and if they saw that crazy twist coming. 27. Find a snuggle buddy. Whether a pet, a friend, a child, or a significant other, someone to snuggle with makes a show all that much more enjoyable. 28. Watch when you can. Sometimes binge watching lasts all night, but if you don’t have that kind of time, you can still squeeze in an episode or two. 29. Take care of other responsibilities first. Put the kids to bed, do your homework, send that email. Though binging might be your escape from these things, taking care of business first will help you clear your head from distractions and allow you to fully enjoy your show. Thank you to these contributors who shared their binge watching experience and best tips with us: Tina Koenig, Kelsey Yeager, Beverly Friedmann, Tamara Ford, Laurelei Litke, Esperanza Nava, Aleksi Sampson, Stacy Caprico, Marco Gonzalez, Becky Beach, Alanda Carter, Dane Kolbaba, Megan Close Zavala, Corinne Evans
The streaming TV industry has grown dramatically in the last decade. “Cord cutting” (opting for no cable or satellite at all) has become the norm, especially among young adults and millenials. We’ve seen what streaming’s done, but where’s it going now? Hint: it won’t just be more Netflix. New streaming services like Disney+, AppleTV+, and WarnerMedia will each launch later this year. Here are six trends experts predict we’ll see as streaming continues to expand: 1. Overchoice How many streaming services is too much? Trying to pick the best streaming service can be challenging.Sam Cook, a writer at Flixed, adds his opinion about what this will mean for the market: “In psychology, the concept we’re dealing with in the streaming TV market right now is called overchoice. It creates cognitive dissonance for consumers as they struggle to figure out which services to sign up to and which to get rid of. Some may choose the easier fall-backs as a result, which at present includes the big names like Netflix, but will likely soon include Disney+ and its potential bundling of Disney+ with Hulu and Hulu + Live TV (a bundle which, if it comes to pass, would completely upend both the live TV streaming and video-on-demand sides of the market.) Quite frankly, overchoice is why the big names are likely going to win out and the smaller, niche services are probably going to peter out. 2. Piracy and free streaming Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, says that this oversaturation of the market could “force consumers to turn to piracy in order to consume content from platforms that they can’t directly afford.”Free streaming options might start to look more appealing compared to a collection of monthly fees. Bill Frost, a writer at CableTV.com says, “With paid streaming apps piling up, ad-supported, free services will start looking more attractive. When viewers reach their budget limit for monthly subscriptions, they’ll become more tolerant of ads. Streaming services like Pluto TV, which offers hundreds of niche channels and thousands of hours of programming for free with ads could become the ‘rabbit-ears’ TV of the future.” 3. Lowered costs As streaming services compete for market share, monthly subscription price will be a huge factor. Walsh says, “For streaming providers, the exploding availability of services may force them to reduce the price of subscription fees.” Frost adds, “The only thing that will make a stack of streaming subscriptions palatable is knowing that they collectively add up to less than a cable or satellite bill.”Up-and-coming services will need to keep their prices low to develop a subscriber base. Frost writes, “Disney+ is launching at a reasonable $6.99 a month, and WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming platform will probably be in the same ballpark. When it debuts in the fall, AppleTV+ will probably cost more than both — because everything Apple makes is usually more expensive, and the loyalists don’t care. If it’s Apple, they’ll buy it. But if the quality isn’t there, they’ll bail just as quickly.”Cook agrees that the AppleTV+ launch won’t be successful: “Don’t expect much from it. Unless Apple is able to find a way to create a new angle to the streaming TV market that nobody else has figured out, and that consumers feel they absolutely need, Apple won’t be able to hedge its loyal fanbase to get a win here when most people who’d use it are already tied to Netflix, or likely Disney+ when that launches. For Apple, it’s probably going to be a case of too little, too late.” Andrew Selepak, PhD, a media professor at the University of Florida and Director of the graduate program in social media, said subscribing to multiple streaming platforms has actually saved him money. “I currently have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, and Sling, and I also watch YouTube videos on my television. Ten months ago, I cut the cord when my cable bill went up to $180 per month, and I still didn’t have most of the premium channels. While there is a convenience to cable, the cost was ridiculous and I didn’t feel like doing the song and dance with the cable provider to threaten to cut the cord for them to offer me another temporary deal. "Now I pay less, and while I have to use multiple apps and an antenna to get most of the shows that I watch with a few exceptions, the streaming services, outside of YouTube, give me a lot of content that I could not get with cable. The problem with the streaming services is that they are now all competing for exclusive content and if there is a specific show you want to watch, you have to pick up that plan, like Stranger Things with Netflix or Game of Thrones with HBO. But then to get news programs, I need Sling, but at least then I can get news beyond the 24-hour American cable news channels with options like BBC News or France 24. With new streaming services coming soon, the current streaming landscape is unsustainable. And while plenty of people share accounts and passwords, the inconvenience of having to switch services to get different shows and having to pay for multiple services will become too much. We will most likely in the next few years see streaming services buy each other out until there are only a big three, but then the cost will increase to the point of most likely being close to the cost of cable. The only question is whether cable will eventually offer a la carte options to compete with streaming or be relegated to the technology dustbin like Betamax, CDs, and GPS devices.” 4. Higher quality content Dennis Restauro, founder of Grounded Reason, says that in addition to lower prices, competition in the streaming space will raise the quality of streaming content. This will especially be the case with original shows. Steve Kurniawan, a writer at Nine Peaks Media, agrees: “Original shows and programs will be the major driving forces behind the changes in streaming trend. This has obviously been around for quite some time, especially thanks to the popularity of Netflix originals. With Disney+ bringing major franchises (Marvel, Star Wars, their own Disney shows, among others) to the game, this will mean that competition in streaming apps will revolve around who has the better original shows, much like game console wars with who has the better exclusive games.”An entertainment industry expert, Gino McKoy, says this might be a setback to smaller studios and that “only the major studios will be able to finance theatrical releases.” From a consumer’s perspective, this is great. Lon Molnar, co-president of MARZ, says, “Quality will be the gauge, which means the consumers win.” 5. Bundling With so many competing services, experts expect that services will team up and offer bundles. Frost says, “Spotify’s deal with Hulu in which you can add basic Hulu to your Spotify Premium account for free has been successful so far. I jumped on it myself — I used Spotify all the time, but rarely Hulu. Now, I’m finding more I like about Hulu, so they’ll have a hook in me if or when they end the deal. It’s evil genius-level marketing.” Derek Szeto at JustButterIt agrees, “As the individual services try to grow their subscriber base, they're going to test and see benefits from bundling. What Spotify, Hulu, and Showtime have done for students is a good indicator of things to come.”McKoy predicts that streaming services will team up with internet service providers (ISPs) or even become their own ISPs in order to maintain a profitable business due to the high bandwidth that streaming uses. 6. Technological advances Kurniawan says that, “In the future, we can expect new, radical technologies to enter the game — for example, VR and AR for more immersive experiences, or A.I. based technologies for better personalization and user experience.” Further expansion Though streaming has grown dramatically in the last decade, it hasn’t completely taken over. Frost writes, “Streaming TV adoption can only grow as fast as internet infrastructure — there are still parts of the United States that can only access the internet through minimal DSL, satellite service, or even dial-up. It takes a decent amount of bandwidth to deliver a watchable picture, and most streaming TV services’ minimal requirements lowball the figure. Cord-cutting isn’t really the universal option it’s advertised to be... yet.”
Dear Netflix, Like most of the civilized world, I've spent a lot of time with you lately. Which is why the following rant is going to seem out of place, even hypocritical. Netflix, my relationship with you comes down to this fact: for all the convenience you deliver, for the hours of content you serve up more than I could watch in a lifetime, really-you can never duplicate the satisfaction and emotional connection I felt with my local video rental store. It's not that I'm not grateful. You've made it possible for me to rewatch all those episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that meant so much to me as a teenager, but which I would never pay for now as a boxed set. You've given me Daredevil, which I regard as the best Marvel movie to date. And I will continue to take advantage of the endless casual viewing you make possible. But as much as it hurts me to say it, despite your eagerness to please, all the enthusiasm with which you've tried to fulfill my needs, my heart will never belong to you. And this is why... Video Rental: My Childhood Sweetheart Video rental stores were the candy shops of my childhood. Starting in 1977 on Wilshire Boulevard and then spreading across the country, video rental stores offered something unheard of. Instead of a small selection of movies that were slated to play on a set schedule, video rental stores were packed with shelves of movies and a completely authoritative video clerk to guide you through them. So it's no surprise that, ten years after they debuted, video rental stores helped push home video revenue past box office revenues. Video rental stores had become a perfect engine for content discovery. And then you, Netflix, showed up. When you started mailing out DVDs in 1999, I thought nothing of it. Yes, the spontaneity, the serendipity, and the invaluable video clerk were conspicuously absent from the proceedings, but you seemed an acceptable extension of the video renting I'd come to know and love. Almost any movie I thought up I could find in your database and order up to watch in a few days. Even as you baffled the public with your bold plans to switch to streaming movies and TV shows, I simply accepted it as a convenience. But little did I realize then your true nature. Little did I realize how this would affect my beloved video rental store. It wasn't until 2014, when Blockbuster Video announced that it would be closing its stores for good, that I realized what you had done. This realization came too late. The neighborhoods of America had been scrubbed clean of any trace that video rental stores had ever existed. My favorite Blockbuster was shuttered for a few months, only to emerge from its renovation chrysalis as a second-rate Taekwondo studio. Drawn in by the convenience of streaming video, by 2015, I had become one of the 50 million people stuck with whatever movies and TV shows you, Netflix, saw fit to serve to me. Emmy-winning original shows and vast library aside, you had robbed me of something precious. For instance... You, Netflix, are heavy on quantity, light on quality Video rental stores had every major release on their shelves, no matter what studio they came from, and they had them going back years. You, Netflix, on the other hand, have only a smattering of films that could be considered quality major releases mixed in with a steaming heap of straight-to-DVD B-movies. For instance, your current recommendations for me include such well-known blockbusters as: Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Another movie featuring Taylor Lautner trying to prove he can do action The modern-day classic I, Frankenstein Mortal Kombat, which barely made a blip on the radar when it came out in, like, 1991 Super Fast, which I can only deduce is the Scary Movie of street racing films The sort-of-known Brick Mansions The third Death Race movie The, like, tenth Underworld movie Another straight-to-DVD bomb featuring Adam Sandler To be fair, you've mixed in there recognizable fare like GI Joe: Retaliation and Catching Fire. So your recommendations aren't a total bust. I know, Netflix, this isn't totally your fault. After all, you take what you can get. And if a big studio isn't willing to play ball with you, then you're stuck with too many Big Ass Spider-level films and not enough Marvel or LOTR movies. Occasionally, you can pull in the big classics, like Fantasia, Rocky, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Apocalypse Now, but those are usually sandwiched in between every Roger Corman B-movie ever made. And when a studio wants to push one of their big franchises, they'll let you show their good stuff for a limited time. I get it, Netflix. When it comes to getting the rights from studios, great/popular movies are expensive and bad movies are cheap. But it definitely makes for a lackluster media experience. Most of the time, I end up watching not those shows and movies that I'm honestly excited to see, but those that are left over after I've burned through the one or two good ones. They're the movies I wouldn't, in a million years, rent from Redbox or (sniff!) Blockbuster, but I find myself watching them simply because they're there and I can't stand silence. And I haven't even gotten started on the ridiculous heaps of reality shows that litter my Netflix recommendations. Inevitably, you make me feel tainted, like my good movie sense has been corrupted, and I am left to wallow in my shame. You, Netflix, can't make expert recommendations You can't because you don't actually watch your content. You rely on tags, user behavior, actors' names, and how many stars the lay viewer assigns to a given show or movie. But you yourself have never actually watched a single one of these pieces of content. Which brings me to the feature of video rental stores I miss the most: the video clerk. Ah, the video clerk: the video rental store's equivalent of a dungeon master. When the video clerk wasn't serving customers or rewinding tapes, he was consuming video after video, constantly expanding his movie knowledge beyond that of mere mortals. In this way, the video clerk secured his place as the neighborhood authority on all cinema. Best of all, he was a human being who had digested cinema with an eye for acting, cinematography, editing, art direction, story, and character development and an ear for music and dialogue. (Imagine a young Quentin Tarantino working behind the counter. After all, this is where Tarantino learned his craft.) Contrast this with the way you, Netflix, make so-called recommendations and there really is no contest. You just can't replace the endless, human intuition and wisdom of a video store clerk with a fancy algorithm. Netflix, you're incapable of generating serendipity You know, that moment when you discover something wholly unexpected and outside your typical media diet but wonderful and eye-opening? Video rental stores did this the same way libraries do. Sometimes, you went in with a specific movie in mind, but other times, you just roamed the rows and rows of shelves looking for something that caught your eye. The selection included movies that had recently been in theaters, as well as the classics and artsy indie movies. Best of all, mixed in with those were pockets of strange movies with bizarre covers and movies my parents would never allow me to watch. There were movies in other languages. And every now and then, there was that one video that you knew nothing about but had the most irresistible cover art. Sooner or later, you knew, you would have to rent that movie just to find out if the contents matched the grandeur of its packaging. This environment was ideally suited for movie selection serendipity. Sadly, you, Netflix, are not. You shove in my face films and shows based on tags attached to the stuff I watch, whether or not those tags are the actual reasons I watched that stuff. You shove it in my face based on the assumption that what I wanted to watch yesterday is what I want to watch today. In any case, your algorithm is so deliberate that it is incapable of surprising me. It's incapable of duplicating that video rental scenario where I stumbled across a video that was completely outside of what I normally watch but ended up forever broadening my media experience. Netflix, it's not you, it's me This isn't to say that there aren't a lot of things that I really like about you, Netflix. You make it easy to watch stuff. You're cheaper than cable. I don't have to worry about getting your movies back to a store in time. So why do I still find it so hard to love you? Maybe it's because the death of video rental stores (you know, the ones you killed) left a hole in my heart so big that it will never be filled. Yes, I crave an intuitive, human-powered media discovery experience. I crave a comprehensive selection of high-quality films and shows. I crave a human guide to lead me to great, new finds. And you, for now, can't give me those things I crave. Not that I blame you. Ultimately, Netflix, it's not you. It's me. - Marcus Varner
It's no question that among all the characters in the Star Wars universe, none are more hated, more despised than Jar Jar Binks. The obnoxious, funny-talking alien who first appeared in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace has personified the poor reception of episodes one through three for over 16 years. Everyone has their own reasons for why they hate this obscure Gungan more than say Darth Vader (remember how he straight up destroyed Alderaan?), the Emperor, or even Hayden Christiensen. Some people hate him for his vocal mannerisms, comprised of both poor grammar and that infuriating "sah" that suffixes nearly every word. Others simply point to his utter uselessness in battle, as a comic relief, or as a "sentient" being. A few concerned fans worry that Jar Jar's mannerisms are somehow a racist caricature. One fan even went so far as to develop his own theory identifying Binks as a Sith lord playing the fool. Whatever your reason, it can only pale in comparison to the 207 offenses VidAngel, the video streaming service that offers edited versions of big ticket movies, has levied against the infamous character. And to prove it, VidAngel is now offering a Jar Jar free version of The Phantom Menace FOR FREE (limited time only)! In addition to its violence, language, and graphic content filters, VidAngel has also provided a "Jar Jar Binks" filter, which cuts out every time Binks is seen, heard, or even mentioned on screen. Activating the Jar Jar filter removes an astounding 23 minutes from the film's total running time! How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways In case you didn't gather from the video above, VidAngel is really dedicated to completely erasing Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars history. Below is a breakdown of of the 207 offenses for which Jar Jar Binks has been filtered out of Episode One: How VidAngel Has Filtered Out Jar Jar Binks from Episode One Nature of the Offense Frequency Jar Jar Binks is introduced on screen. This is the moment that arguably destroyed the Star Wars franchise. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. 185 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. Luckily he's unconscious, so he's not talking. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. Unfortunately, he wakes up. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. AGAIN. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. Again. Serving no purpose whatsoever. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. For no reason. He's sleeping. Structurally, there is no reason for him to be physically present in this scene. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. In the background. Ruining everything. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen. His forced comedic high jinks ruin a perfectly decent action scene. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen, ruining the last scene like he did every other one he's in. 1 Jar Jar Binks's feet are in the shot. 1 A man says "Jar Jar." 2 A man says "Binks" in reference to Jar Jar. 1 A robot says "Jar Jar." 1 A woman says "Jar Jar Binks." 1 Jar Jar Binks speaks. 3 Jar Jar Binks smiles like a smug simpleton. 1 Jar Jar Binks is in the background, spoiling a perfectly good shot of some flags. 1 Jar Jar Binks snores. It's the worst. 1 Jar Jar Binks is on screen; thankfully for the last time. 1 We are all are excited for the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens release. Let's just hope we won't need the Jar Jar filter to enjoy it.
Almost as if the original content arms race has been forgotten, Streaming TV companies are moving forward with new plans. The first movers are Hulu and Amazon, who have arranged deals with movie networks like Starz and Showtime. Bundles are back, for better or for worse. Amazon will offer a number of movie network subscriptions at additional prices added onto the yearly fee. This isn't your average cable-style bundle. Just pay an additional amount for each additional network every month. $9 a month for Showtime, $9 a month for Starz, $5 for Acorn TV every month. $4 montly for Lifetime Move Club, and $4 a month for Smithsonian Earth. In addition, pay the $99 per month for the rest of the Amazon Prime service, which includes discounts on shipping from Amazon.com and access to e-books and movies. What happens if you use an Apple TV to watch Showtime or any of the other networks? No problem. You can watch them on your set-top box with your Amazon Prime login information. That's true for Roku and Chromecast, yes. You can also sign in with your Amazon credentials on Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, and Fire TV. Hulu viewers can also add Showtime to their service for $8.99 a month, the same deal as Amazon's. But is it a good deal to get networks this way? In some cases, yes. Without an Amazon subscription, you'd pay $10.99 a month for Showtime by itself. However, there's no discount on the Lifetime subscription with Amazon. It's $4 either way. You may want to wait for Apple's upcoming streaming TV service, which will go for $30 to $40 a month, whenever it's finally put on offer. The channels may suit your better than any combination of Amazon's partner networks. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Just weeks after Netflix began streaming videos online back in 2007, Mubi did too. Mubi founder Efe Cakarel didn't plan to compete head-on with the already-famous Netflix. If you think of the streaming TV and movie industry is a Blockbuster store, (I mean a store made of brick, with a tall lighted sign out front, if you can recall those) then Mubi is the "staff picks" section, says Cakarel. It's a "trusted advisor." Mubi's staff of film experts hand-picks a selection of the world's best films. The selection changes each month. You'll see that 30 films are available and you'll probably find out that you have to pay about $10.99 per month to stream. Most of these films are not well known or "mainstream." You'll probably decide it's not worth it. But if you're perhaps one in 400, you'll pay. These kind of films are your niche. But don't let me discourage you if it's not your niche. Mubi will begin streaming something really special in a couple of days. It's something millions will be interested in. Something that could change Mubi forever, and maybe even change the streaming movie landscape. It's called "Junun," which means "mania" or "the madness of love" in several Middle Eastern and Asian languages. Junun was directed by "Boogie Nights" and "There Will Be Blood" director, Paul Thomas Anderson. It stars Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, Israeli musician and composer Shye Ben Tzur, music producer Nigel Godrich, and musicans from across West Asia. Is that star power not enough to justify the $5? Well, there is something else that makes this film interesting. It was filmed at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. The idea was to simply get together and make awesome music in an amazing place while being filmed by a great director. It's for a niche, probably, but part of that niche is Radiohead fans. "The results deliver the close camaraderie of artistic collaboration and a sonic, visual and sensory experience that will capture your imagination," says Mubi. You'd still rather watch something a little more....ordinary? That's OK, check out these streaming movie services.
Why is Netflix so much better than cable TV? Why is Amazon Video just as good? Why are there dozens of other streaming companies that could easily overtake your monthly entertainment dollars? Isn't it because we know we deserve better now that we have easy access to more personalized material? That's part of it, but there's more in the picture. As Tina Fey told Reuters, "with broadcast, when you're going into people's homes, you have to be a little more polite." By "broadcast" she means traditional TV. "You can get into more dangerous topics" on Netflix, she said. There are two reasons for that. First, we can choose what we want to watch and when we want to watch it with streaming content. So we don't end up with nothing but sleaze on the tube when kids are around. In other words, there's no risk of inappropriateness because we can choose what we see. The second reason is that there are no advertisers! Marketing rules in traditional cable. If the advertisers aren't happy, the network isn't happy and you might end up being less happy while you sit in your living room. While some plans streaming companies offer still include ads, there are many that don't. Amazon Prime, Netflix, Vudu, Blockbuster on Demand, and Hulu Plus (specifically, their most expensive plan) are among them. Therefore, directors who want to create something really edgy or potentially offensive go to the aforementioned companies. They win and you win! Fey was able to find an outlet in Netflix when her show, "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," wasn't a good fit for old school cable, she says. That show is being nominated for Emmys and similarly boundary-crossing shows are getting extremely positive feedback, too. Original content from streaming companies is good stuff! Want to try something a little more provocative than usual? Or maybe something a little more controversial? Something simply different, perhaps? Try a streaming TV platform.
Imagine being away from a loved one for weeks or even months. You talk on the phone a lot but it would be nice to experience your usual activities together, wouldn't it? Well, now you can do at least one together. Not together physically, but together in a sense. There's an easy way to watch movies "together." It's a Chrome extension that syncs your Netflix controls with those of your loved one. So, when he or she is in Singapore and clicks pause, your movie is paused at the same time. The extension is called Showgoers. You need three things to before you can use it: 1. A Netflix Account (and one for each of your buddies/loved ones) 2. Google Chrome 3. The Showgoers Chrome Extension After you've installed the extension, open Netflix and click a show or movie. In the upper right-hand area of Chrome, you'll see a little icon that looks like a pair of 3D glasses. Click it and then click "Start a Sync Session." You'll then get a link that you can share with anyone who's going to watch your video with you. When someone in the group pauses, rewinds or fast-forwards, it's as if everyone does the same thing at exactly the same time! You shouldn't end up watching different parts of the movie, but it could get a little annoying if too many in the group click too many buttons too often. There's a chat box where you can express your frustration about that. The extension is currently in beta, so don't be surprised if your long-distance group movie watching experience doesn't go as planned the first time. If you use Firefox or Safari, there's an extension for you in the works, says Showgoers creator Alan Jones. This is definitely the easiest way I know of to watch movies with someone far from you (in terms of physical distance). There's no need to worry about bandwidth for screen sharing, usually no troubleshooting sound issues, and no feeling guilty about duplicating a copyrighted movie. Showgoers is easy to install, too. The only potential problem is Netflix account access. For now, if your friend or loved one uses Hulu, Amazon Prime or any other streaming service and doesn't also use Netflix, you're out of luck. In other words, the extension doesn't work with all streaming video platforms, just with Netflix.