2021 is the year that TV streaming services will become dominant in the entertainment landscape. They’ve already got huge budgets, big intellectual properties and a seemingly endless buffet of entertainment from the past and present… but could it be better? Here’s our wish list of features that we’d like to see on our streaming screens, to truly revolutionise the way we entertain ourselves at home.

Entertainment For Everyone

We start with an area where the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and more have already made some progress. Unlike a linear TV channel where there’s just one show on at a time, streaming platforms offer a vast library with enough room to accommodate everyone. Stories that celebrate an LGBTQ+ perspective, have strong female leads, or depict creatives from various backgrounds and cultures are important not only to make sure every viewer feels represented, but also to create a greater cultural dialogue for the future. With the click of a button, viewers decide what – or who – is the next big hit, and a more level playing field means more opportunities for all different kinds of stars.

Watch Parties

Websites already exist that allow people living apart to sync their viewing and talk online, but it’s often restricted to desktop or laptop users. We’d like to see a sync-and-chat feature built right into streaming apps of the future, so that we can laugh, cry and gasp together through our connected devices. This could take advantage of the ‘second screen culture’, where people look at their phones while watching a TV or tablet. Why not have a chat thread on your phone while the show is playing on the bigger screen? It brings a social element to viewing, and connects people who have been temporarily separated so they don’t miss an episode of their favourite show. With many viewers already live-tweeting shows or commenting in their various group chats, streamlining the whole process makes a lot of sense.

Curation, Curation, Curation

We’re going to say something that may not make a lot of sense at first: Some streaming services could benefit from less content. We’re not saying they should strip their vast libraries down to the essentials, but many of us have felt that paralysis of choice, where there’s so much to choose from you just feel overwhelmed. To save us from an hour of scrolling through thumbnails, we’d like to see a more curated approach with shortlisted content (not compiled by us in a watchlist). This could be achieved through the menu, where we see less choice but more quality, or by providing more narrowly defined categories than what most big names currently offer.

The second option is, dare we say it, a linear channel. Yes, an on-demand service offering a traditional ‘channel’ within its app might seem like a step backwards, but a curated line-up of current shows would be useful for people who want to watch something new but don’t know where to start. Netflix have already experimented with this in France with Netflix Direct, a fixed-schedule 24-hour channel launched last November. It’s an idea that can work in tandem with the on-demand offering to take the stress out of streaming, with the option to binge the rest of a show’s season if you catch an episode of something you like.

Live Sport

Of course, sport is already available to stream on various platforms depending on your location. However, we’re talking about the potential of streaming to change the way we consume our favourite game(s), offering more choice than ever. As it stands, many channels offer one or two select games that are likely to appeal to the most people. With streaming, you can pick your team and follow them every week, whether you’re a Chicago Bulls fanatic in Paris or a Real Madrid enthusiast in Rio.

For many, the nature of sport is following your team through the highs and lows of a season. Streaming has the capacity to provide a kind of virtual season ticket that covers every kick, throw, time out or tense final minute. Just as you can filter movies by genre, actor, or studio, clicking on your club’s logo and never missing a second will be worth a lot to millions of sports lovers.

Pushing Boundaries

This is something you want from any broadcaster, but streaming services have a particular window to push barriers in entertainment. Existing outside the traditional parameters of television – and the advertisers that come with it – gives them the opportunity to tell stories that shock, inform and provoke conversation.

Amazon, for instance, resurrected Borat for a sequel to the 2006 cinema hit last year, taking aim at political figures just as America was gearing up to head to the polls. Netflix projects have covered difficult subjects such as eating disorders and sexual assault, but also celebrated the many ways in which we live and love in shows like Sex Education. Stories like these can help us make sense of the world around us, as well as our history and our future, but this only really happens when a show is willing to go out on a limb – and is so brilliant that audiences are glued to their couches.

There will always be a place for safe, comfortable entertainment that’s like a warm blanket draped over us. However, there’s also enough room for stories that take the viewer out of their comfort zone, and which invite us to challenge our perspectives.

Getting Immersive

Have you ever wanted to sit on the famous Simpsons couch next to Homer? How about having a front-row seat to a historic royal event in The Crown, or leaning in as Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge confesses something shocking to you?

One field of technology that’s growing almost as fast as streaming is virtual reality. Once the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, VR is now in millions of homes across the world, and we’re edging toward a point where it could feasibly be integrated into our everyday entertainment experiences. However, this isn’t about watching TV in a giant virtual cinema (there are already several apps for that). We’d love to see big-budget live-action shows become immersive, where the smoke of a dragon surrounds you, or you the feel the glow of a spaceship’s red alert.

Second Chances

Yes, streaming has brought back old favourites like Arrested Development and Sex and the City, but what about shows that were perhaps a little more obscure? The series that maybe aired at the wrong time, or the movie that just didn’t get the box office it deserved. Stories like these could be brought back and introduced to a new generation. A popular pick would be late ‘90s Joss Whedon sci-fi Firefly, which may have waited too long at this point. However, while projects like Amazon’s upcoming Coming 2 America sequel are a safe bet, some interesting stories could emerge if less notable shows were given a chance to contend on the level playing field a streaming platform provides.

A Sense of Occasion

How many times have you scrolled past a show or movie on a service and saw that it stars a huge actor, and thought “why have I never heard of this?” It’s an issue a lot of original streaming content faces, where a lack of hyped-up premiere or publicity means the titles pop up in your streaming menu, only to disappear without a trace into the mountains of content. Films in particular have struggled for publicity without the fanfare of a cinema release. 2019’s action film Extraction starred Chris Hemsworth, and was directed by the Russo Brothers – the makers of the most successful film of all time in Avengers: Endgame. This should be big news, but the film came and went with little impact on pop culture (we’d bargain that many of you reading may not even have heard of it).

A lot of money has been poured into these big productions, but the constant churn of content means it’s easy to miss films and shows that might have been celebrated more on a traditional platform. So, for the future, we’d like to see services treat their new content with a sense of occasion, rather than just another title to kill a few hours.

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