One of the unique trends of the downloadable and streaming media age is the playlist. If you want to go back to the foundational DNA of the playlist you can find it in mixtapes and other personally-curated media that began decades ago. Online access and social media means those playlists aren’t just shared with one friend you made a special collection for but with the world.
Playlists are common in the music world. Over a decade ago iTunes started letting users create playlists of the music they had purchased or added from their physical CD collection. You could get all your favorite running music in one place and not have to worry about it for two hours. You could get all 400 songs from your favorite band on one long-running list. You could pull out of of George Harrison’s contributions to The Beatles in a way a record company would never in a million years consider. It was great.
So where are the movie playlists?
I’m not talking about your queue of movies to watch on Netflix or Amazon. That’s more akin to a To Do List. And I’m not talking about the “If you liked…” sections on those or other services. Those are recommendations. Spotify, which does allow for personal playlist creation, has something similar with all its “Because you listened to…” suggestions, including popular lists like Discover Weekly and others. Again, those aren’t necessarily what I’m talking about.
The streaming and VOD movie ecosystem lacks features allowing me to go in and create a curated list of my top Will Ferrell comedies. Or a list of “Chris’ Essential Documentaries” that I can then turn to myself when looking for something to watch or share with others.
That’s because all of these streaming services are beholden to the studios and networks for their content, and those studios and networks are constantly shuffling their licensing contracts. I’d love to build a “Sean Connery Bond” playlist on Netflix but those movies are only going to be there for two months before they bounce back over to Amazon, where they’ll be for three months before bouncing back to Netflix, after which Sony might take them back for whatever branded OTT service it wants to launch.
Playlists make no sense for streaming movies and TV because the concept requires permanence, which is not a feature those services have.
Which isn’t to say playlists and videos don’t mesh at all. YouTube has had playlist functionality almost since inception and it’s great, allowing content publishers to organize their material and for fans to create whatever sort of lists their hearts desire. But again, that’s because the assumption is that those videos will be there for a long period of time, not pulled at the whims of the rights owner.
The situation is a shame since playlists could be a very cool feature for streaming services and a powerful discovery and engagement tool. Netflix, for example, could get everyone to follow its own “Steven Spielberg” list while a random fan could create her own “Influenced by Spielberg” list of films she knows or feels owe significant inspiration to his work. The possibilities are endless. You could follow an individual’s profile and get recommendations from them based on their playlists. It’s the Letterboxed model, but for actual movies, not just movie ratings and reviews.
Until there’s a shaking out of streaming service providers and an embrace of a “Screw it, everything goes everywhere” approach by the studios – neither of which is going to happen anytime soon – movies will remain an areas where playlists never take root. That means missing out on all the social capital the format can offer, which is a shame since movies, as much as music, are the kind of thing that can bring us all together.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.