Subscription conniptions: how many is too many?

Like many people these days, I pay for a number of different subscription products that are beneficial in all kinds of ways.

Amazon Prime is one of the smartest and most innovative subscriptions for anyone who orders stuff regularly from Amazon… which is a lot of people. You pay a yearly fee, and you figure the cost kind of covers itself in “saved” shipping charges alone. And then, when you’re a TV geek such as myself, the bevy of original TV shows you can see with an Amazon Prime subscription — ranging from The Fabulous Mrs. Maisel to Patriot to the recent debut of Good Omens and on and on — makes it feel like you’re getting to see all of this great stuff for free.

I also pay $15 per month for HBO Now, HBO’s standalone streaming service. While it’s cool to know that I can access HBO classics such as The Sopranos or The Wire (and see much more on this in this week’s Pop Culture Arcana Arcade: sign up for the newsletter below!) anytime I want, and there are always a handful of really high quality shows on HBO that I’m looking forward to seeing, I do sometimes consider dropping the service. I suppose it comes down to the seemingly overwhelming value of an Amazon Prime or Netflix (with its gargantuan content offerings and throw-it-all-at-the-wall array of shows) versus the much smaller and much more curated TV series that HBO produces.

The end of Game of Thrones, perhaps the last true “watercooler” TV show for the foreseeable future, offered a natural milestone to revisit this choice. Of course, this is something that HBO is acutely aware of, and which is why it has put a 2:10 trailer in front of all of its offerings, showcasing everything in its production pipeline, it seems, over the next year or two.  And you know what? It worked, at least in my case. Between the return of Succession and new shows like The Righteous Gemstones, I’m going to stick around for a while.

All of this was on my mind when reading about “Streaming’s cancel culture problem“:

  • Data shows that consumers across all ages are more than 30% likely to cancel a subscription streaming service after the show or series they are watching has ended. This creates big headaches for streaming companies over how to keep consumers from leaving, especially as the streaming space grows increasingly competitive.
  • A new Axios/Harris poll conducted after the “Game of Thrones” finale aired found that that 16% of HBO subscribers say they planned to cancel their subscriptions now that the show is over.
  • Most people only plan to hang onto subscription services for less than 6 months upon initially signing up, according to the most recent Video Entertainment Survey from media research firm Frank A. Magid and Associates

When you broaden out from TV stuff and think about all of the subscriptions that many people carry — from cable Internet to phone to magazines to luxury services such as Birchbox and Lootcrate — it brings up the question of whether people might hit “subscription fatigue” based on cost or other factors.

new report out, if it’s to be believed, relays that the subscription splurge may well continue for some time to come:

  • U.S. consumers are still embracing subscriptions. More than a third (34%) of Americans say they believe they’ll increase the number of subscription services they use over the next two years, according to a new report from eMarketer. This is following an increase to three subscription services on average, up from 2.4 services five years ago.

Key point and question here:

  • Subscriptions, after all, may still feel like luxuries. No one needs Netflix, Spotify, groceries delivered to their home or curated clothing selections sent by mail, for example. There are non-subscription alternatives that are much more affordable. The question is which luxuries are worth the recurring bill?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head out to hit the gym, followed by an evening of cooking up some Blue Apron while listening to a custom playlist on Spotify.

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

The Game of Thrones podcast geek pyramid

This edition of On Media is about Game of Thrones-related podcast content specifically.

Even if you’re not a fan of the HBO show turned cultural phenomenon, you’re probably aware that we’re now in the final stretch of episodes — in fact, the series finale will debut on May 19th.

And if you are a fan as I am, you’re probably binge reading and listening to as much GoT stuff as you can because, you know, it’s cool and all. And it’s probably one of the very last true “water cooler shows” that we’re going to see for a long, long time.

With that in mind, here’s a quick and handy guide to finding the right “level” of GoT podcasting content, based on your level of geekery with relation to the show. All of these podcasts are part of The Ringer network, which produces a remarkable array of shows, of which I’ll have to get into more fully in another edition.

Apex-of-the Geeky-Pyramid Level: Binge Mode 
Hosted by “Mother of Dragons” Mallory Rubin and “Grand Maester” Jason Concepcion, these two are my pop culture geek spirit guides. In each episode, they go deep for around two hours, parsing through the episode, how it relates to the series as a whole, the books (which themselves are quite dense and include a Silmarillon-like backstory and history), and fan and media expectations.

They’re also scholars of the art of fantasy storytelling and don’t hold back at all when and where they feel that the show comes up short. For example, there’s a lot of focus of late on how Game of Thrones may or may not pay enough attention to the core fantasy and magical underpinnings of the story.

They are also freaking hilarious. If you love Game of Thrones and a sigil for House Geek lurks in your soul, check out Binge Mode.

And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, there’s an oceanic archive of stuff that Binge Mode has produced as well that you’ll want to check out.

Mid-level Geekery: The Watch 
Overall, The Watch is my favorite pop culture podcast. Usually, it’s pretty TV-centric but will also do some film and music stuff. Lately, there has been a Game of Thrones-centered episode each week that’s really fun as well. Hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, this podcast has a great adoration for Game of Thrones while making sure to note its successes and failings with expert analysis.

Low-level Geekery: The Bill Simmons Podcast 
This is predominantly a sports podcast, so don’t be fooled, please (though Simmons will interview non-sports figures semi-regularly as well). That said, they’ve been doing a very funny segment called “Throne Game” at the end of episodes of late, in which Simmons and his guests (typically Ryen Russillo or Joe House) run through the most recent episode for 5-10 minutes from an extremely casual fan’s standpoint. This yields ridiculously funny bits such as how the dragons should wear gender neutral-colored collars to tell one another apart, and how Bronn and The Hound’s PER (= Player Efficiency Rating, a sports analytics term) is extremely high.

I’ll be sad when GoT is over, but as the Drowned God would say, “What is dead may never die.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Game of Thrones Season 8 primer

Winter is finally here: Game of Thrones returns for its final six episodes beginning Sunday, April 14th on HBO. If you haven’t heard about this, it’s because you’re doing a really good job of avoiding the marketing and media onslaught. 
I tried to launch a re-watch of the first seven seasons — many of which approach or surpass a full hour in length — and made it early into the second season. What often gets lost amongst all of the epic battles and dragons-y stuff is that the show is as good as it is because of its rich and finely developed world building, including the grounded politics and religion and relationships and “rules” of this world (including its super low tech and mostly non-magical technology). This is all thanks to the writing of novelist George R. R. Martin of course, but as someone who has read the five (of expected… seven, maybe?) published novels of the A Song of Fire and Ice series, I can say this is a rare occasion where the television or film version of an already very good (if quite dense) series of books is far surpassed in the visualized story form. 
I looked for a solid synopsis of the TV series to date and couldn’t find anything worth sharing that’s in chronological order. However, The Ringer‘s Definitive ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode Rankings does a fine job of summing things up on an episode-to-episode basis with an editorial tilt, and further provides a take on who “won” each episode (Jon Snow’s the winner of the brilliant “Hardhome” — “The last 20 minutes are as blistering an action sequence as anything I’ve seen in films or television in the last five years” — for instance), and links to the equally nerdy and outstanding Binge Mode podcast episodes. 
There’s an endless amount of content out there to help you get hyped for the final episodes. Staying with The Ringer (which has gone all in on coverage this week), they did a bunch of fun pieces, such as Power Ranking the Top 25 Villains in ‘Game of Thrones’ History. The #1 selection is a little hard to guess if you’ve not done a recent and full re-watch, but ultimately makes sense given the criteria The Ringer team rigorously applies. And here’s a power ranking of the 25 most anticipated reunions in the final episodes.  (Yep, there are that many characters and moving pieces and locations to deal with at this late date.) 
Alan Sepinwall checks in with the 10 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Moments So Far. And I found this Vulture piece to be really cool: Game of Thrones Official Photographer on Her 14 Favorite Behind-the-Scenes Shots.

Then there’s just a bunch of silly and wacky stuff, such as this genuinely funny Saturday Night Live “New HBO Shows” promo sketch.  If you’re curious about what Conleth Hill, who plays Varys, looks and sounds like in real life (full head of hair!), check him out on Seth Meyers’ couch. And then discover that Sean Bean Is Really Meaning to Catch Up on Game of Thrones.

There’s a lot of talk in TV critic-y circles about how GoT represents the end of an era, with this being the last TV show for the foreseeable future that people will watch when it airs (or close to it) and discuss in a next day, around the water cooler (virtual or otherwise) kind of way. Here’s a few of those pieces, if you’ve an interest.   
Some opinion pieces are better than others. One, on the less better than other side, asks, “Must I watch them?” of the final episodes. This question is answered with musings such as, “Well, in part, it’s because I feel fairly certain that the final episodes will be bad.”  
Last I checked, the Sons of the Harpy will not be on deck to massacre those who choose not to participate in watching the final Game of Thrones episodes.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.