It’s not that long ago that settling down in front of the television to watch your favourite program was as natural as eating breakfast. When I was a kid, every Saturday night my mom and I would sit on the couch, TV tables set up, Swanson frozen dinners fresh out of the oven, to watch The Love Boat. It was one hour of family time, a ritual that lasted for almost a decade. Fifteen years later, I repeated the ritual with my best friend on Thursday nights to watch friends, Frasier, and ER. Instead of dinner, we shared chips and Swedish berries. With my own children, we have family movie night, something we have done since the boys were old enough to walk the aisles at Blockbuster and pick a movie and snacks. It feels like a lifetime has passed since we did that, but it was only 10 years ago that the video chain shut its doors.
Even before all video stores shuttered for good, I was already a Netflix member. At the time, the company was a DVD mailing service. We had just had our first child, and the offer of unlimited DVDs for an unlimited period of time without having to leave the house was extremely attractive. As any new parent knows, watching a movie from start to finish can take days. Netflix was a godsend.
One evening, as my husband was prepping dinner, I received an email from Netflix that informed us the mail-out service was going to try something new: streaming.
“How is that even going to work?” I asked rhetorically.
This was 2005. Internet was still primarily dial-up. Downloading a photo could be done in the amount of time it took to brew a pot of coffee (pre-Keurig days). I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around being able to watch a whole movie without stuttering or freezing or a lost connection. It wasn’t until 2010 that Netflix started streaming in Canada, five years after that email. Like evolution in the animal kingdom, it took time to get things right, but once we figured it out, we steamrolled into digital content.
The way we consume programming has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. We’ve evolved from being hostage to the whims of the networks to being able to choose what we watch and when. My children, now teenagers, have never felt the restriction of a weekly, episodic series. They watch YouTube at all hours of the day and, remarkably, have the patience to wait for all the episodes of a season to drop so they can binge watch (hello, The Mandalorian).
Streaming services have made entertainment accessible and more personal. Everything we watch or engage with is done so as a deliberate choice. We seek out the people, products and ideas that matter to us at that moment, and through that process of discovery, we become part of a community. YouTube, Twitch and Discord have built their platforms around the needs and desires of their users and creators.
The most fascinating development (to me, anyways) is that the availability and accessibility of streaming video has changed how we learn. My own children learned to tie their shoelaces by watching a video on YouTube. Over the past 18 months of the pandemic, according to YouTube, 89% of viewers say they came to YouTube to learn or improve on skills they are interested in. If I ask my teenagers if they know how to do something, they’ll roll their eyes, then nod.
“How did you learn that?” I’ll ask.
Another eye roll.
“I googled it. There’s, like, thousands of videos about that on YouTube.”
Streaming offers us education on demand. We can skip the crap we don’t need to get to the specific skills we seek. How To” is the biggest search term on YouTube and Google and proof that you are never alone in trying to solve a problem. On demand video opens the world to everyone and connects us to one another.
With that in mind, start creating video that helps. If you can show someone how to do something, teach them. If you need a space to start a conversation, use video. The kind of content that is created isn’t just about learning skills or solving problems. Some of YouTube biggest creators are filming their reactions to music they’ve never heard before. Others are sharing their knowledge, or sharing their process.
The possibilities are endless and on-demand video is your playground. Get out there and play.