Howdy! Welcome to Very Online‘s second issue.
We are now in the final days of the year, and prepping for a new one that might be better than the hellholes that were 2020 and 2021. I think I’ll need most (if not all) of 2022 just to process two years’ worth of personal, national, and global grief.
And after the madness leading up to December 24/25, it’s so nice to shut down and take a break from the 26th to January 1. This may be the only thing Filipinos fully agree on: these days are unofficial ‘vacation leave’ days. I’ve been in the workforce for 15+ years; throughout that time I have reported for office duty on these days only once, and willingly logged in hours as a remote worker once. In all my other full-time and freelance contracts, they have always been no-gos for work.
With COVID-19 still raging worldwide and omicron looming heavily over us, those of us who choose to stay at home (and not be careless and unwitting virus carriers) will surely spend some of those free days streaming music, TV shows, movies, and live events. I know I will – and that’s not just because I loathe our current cable TV provider and DJ-heavy radio stations.
The first few
For the longest time, YouTube was the only popular option in the Philippines for video streaming. Sure, we had Vimeo even then, but YouTube was more accessible thanks to Google buying the platform in 2006.
Honestly, the content wasn’t that great then. We got mostly pirated content, home videos, and viral clips from people who never expected to become famous. But we put up with it because it was there, the videos were often short to match our short attention spans, and the videos loaded ‘fast’ enough on the Philippines’ snail-slow internet speeds.
(I will never forgive YouTube for unleashing Justin Bieber on the world, though. And we must always remember that Janet Jackson’s humiliation at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show at the literal hand of Justin Timberlake helped create YouTube in the first place.)
Things changed when Netflix and Spotify were made available in the country in 2016 and 2014, along with competitors iFlix, HOOQ, Deezer, and Apple Music shortly before or after that. This was huge for those in the upper and middle classes who could afford them. I couldn’t ditch my ripped MP3s and tiangge-sourced DVDs – or binge-watch House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Beasts of No Nation – fast enough. Finally, we were included in worldwide conversations about (mostly American) popular culture. We can relate now! Hindi na tayo ‘others’!
Media streaming had another appealing aspect: its price points. At ₱129 and ₱460 per month, Spotify and Netflix users now had access to copyrighted material 24/7 that is uninterrupted by ads or episodic broadcasts. We can stream nonstop and binge on whatever we want, whenever and wherever and however we want.
No wonder people began to think that digital piracy in our country could go down or be eradicated altogether. Why torrent when we can legally stream our favorite songs and shows – and for fees lower than legitimate CDs and DVDs, or a single ticket for a movie theater with snacks, drinks, and reclining seats?
I know I felt that way for many years. I bought myself a second-generation Google Chromecast soon after signing up for Netflix, and never looked back. I also had Spotify running all day: on my phone while writing and cooking and cleaning, hooked up to my car system via Bluetooth as I drove around Metro Manila, and sometimes through my earphones as I slept. And when Spotify got into podcasts, I hit the Follow button on (too) many of them, too.
Basically, two streaming services were enough for me.
Along came COVID-19 and the lockdowns. (Singular for us, the country with one of the longest lockdowns in the world.) And as we shifted our entire lives online and indoors, streaming services came at us in full force.
My streaming-subscription madness started with HBO Go, which was made available to Philippine subscribers pre-pandemic but boomed in popularity after the lockdown. I know many of my friends and acquaintances signed up to see Wonder Woman 1984 and Zack Snyder’s Justice League on the same day they premiered in theaters and HBO Max in the States.
Then came my trials and signups for Viu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Music, local players iWant TV (now iWantTFC) and GMovies, and Google Play rentals. I also made return trips to iFlix for shows and movies unavailable on other platforms, and Vimeo to watch a private copy of a high school classmate’s festival-darling movie. I didn’t even bother with the other platforms (Upstream, Hayu, Tubi, WeTV… Am I missing anything else?) because even then, the streaming market quickly became fragmented and overwhelming.
Season 14 was available on Viu at the time, and this manly-man soap opera about Alaskan crab-fishing captains and crew got me through a lot of dark days and nights with its drama and consistency. Tough fishers set pots, grab pots, count and weigh the crabs they catch, fight in the wheelhouse or galley, have a couple of drinks and fight with other crews, dodge Arctic ice, engage in some radio gossip, do staged pranks, set off fireworks, suffer bloody/gory injuries, and maybe unintentionally cross the U.S.-Russia sea border or grab some groceries while at Dutch Harbor. Ad infinitum… At least until Discovery Channel gets tired of its cash cow and Mike Rowe’s crap:
It’s fun to see and count how many manufactured shenanigans Original Productions can come up with because they are seriously asking crab fishers to be actors. And some of these fishermen are kinda cute when they’re not covered in fish guts and being all sexist/misogynist and yelling “Yeah, baby” and “Fuck!” all the time.
There were also the months I spent watching nothing but documentaries and comedy specials on Netflix and sci-fi and fantasy series anywhere I could find them. Even today, I’m fond of watching YouTube clips of American shows that were on TV when I was growing up (like 3rd Rock from the Sun, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and The Nanny).
Eventually, I had to narrow down my streaming services – and regain control of my time and sanity. One by one, I canceled payments and memberships, and decided on what media I could live without and which ones I could afford to balance with life and pandemic concerns. (HOOQ closed in May 2020, so that’s one example of taking yourself out of the game just as it gets hot.) And I’m not even getting into all the shows and live events streaming for free across YouTube, Facebook, or Vimeo.
They’re getting greedy (and creative)
Today, streaming looks just like cable TV, only more expensive and complicated for us Third-Worlders. Those monthly subscriptions add up; and in the pandemic era, that money could certainly be used on other and more important things.
Also, not having all shows on just one service can be a pain in the ass. It’s not like entire companies will instantly go broke and their staff jobless if they lend some of their IP to other streamers for international release. In fact, I’d say they will lose potential customers and profits if they don’t share – as was the case when ViacomCBS pulled Star Trek: Discovery from Netflix just days before Season 4 premiered internationally. That was a dick move that guaranteed I will never sign up for Paramount+.
Aside from pulling their licensed content off competitors’ libraries, streamers are using unconventional ways to get more signups. For example, YouTube is bombarding its non-paying users with obnoxious ads at the start and midpoint of every video to force them to go Premium. I’d rather pay ₱159/month than see and hear another Lazada or Shopee ad, or get another goddamn pop-up ad obscuring what you’re watching. I’ve heard the same goes for Spotify’s free service – that it’s so bad compared to the paid version that people will be coerced to pony up.
Some shows and movies are also jumping ship; I now see Mr. Robot and The Flash (plus other Arrowverse shows) on Netflix after they used to be exclusive to iFlix.
Notice us… Or else
Discovery+ wins the award for creativity, though. When it launched in the Philippines back in September 2021, it offered its full media catalog across channels – including Discovery, HGTV, TLC, and Travel Channel – plus Discovery+ Originals for ₱129/year. Yep, one whole year for the price of a month’s subscription fee.
I do have to give credit where and when it’s due. Right now, the Philippines is the only Asian or Asia-Pacific country where Discovery+ is available. It feels super nice to have Discovery+ at that rock-bottom price when no one else in the region has it, assuming they don’t cheat via VPN.
Moreover, having Discovery+ before anyone else here is a form of validation for a country that frequently and actively seeks global validation. In Discovery Inc.’s eyes, we are a viable market. For now, I can ignore the quality of the content they’re distributing. What matters in the streaming and digital subscriptions game is the privilege that subscribers feel in being seen and having that access – they have to be that happy to be your customer that they’ll keep paying you for it.
We are so used to the Philippines getting something much later than Western and other (and richer) Asian markets like China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, or Malaysia; or being completely ignored and/or overcharged. So when we are prioritized and valued and offered something ahead of other people, it matters a lot. Think of it as our eternal ‘kawawa’ mentality manifesting in the digital world – or an ignored and underestimated market getting some form of revenge.
According to VPN provider Surfshark and its 2021 Digital Quality of Life (DQL) index, the Philippines ranks 84th in the world (out of 110 countries) for mobile internet speed and 78th in broadband speed. Yet we pay too much for slow internet access, and with an average monthly salary of only ₱15,200. And people ask why fake news runs rampant on free internet services, or why we have one of the highest piracy rates in the world and do not see piracy as theft.
In a reversal of my earlier “Why torrent?” question… For some people, the question is “Why not?”
Paid streaming is not an option for most folks, but those who earn more and could afford it will readily sign up and/or pay for an ad-free experience. Finder.com’s recent study on streaming service subscriptions found that the Philippines has the fourth-highest number of subscribers out of the 18 countries surveyed, with 61.72% of our population signed up for at least one streaming service.
Netflix is also the reigning service here (followed by YouTube Premium and iFlix), and women outnumber men both for service signups and Netflix subscriptions. Men have the edge for Amazon Prime Video subscriptions, though.
Finder.com also issues this disclaimer:
“…it is worth noting that the survey conducted in the Philippines was a convenience sample using Google Surveys, which may bias the results towards those who are more likely to be using the Internet frequently in their past-time and who may also be more likely to have subscriptions to streaming services.”
TL;DR: We’ll pirate your content if we want it – and if we feel like pirating it instead of waiting for eons for you to offer it to us. But if you give us an unbeatable price and a vast catalog, we could pay to go legit. Streamers can keep ignoring us (I’m looking at you, Disney+ and Hulu, etc.) at their own risk.
(You know, I actually want Discovery+ to release subscription numbers for the Philippines. I want to know if they set signup records with that promo. I also want to know average usage numbers, and which shows and documentaries are hits in this country.)
Escapism and representation as lifelines
After all that… Sometimes, streaming has a value that goes way beyond its monthly fee or ready access.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, I’ve had that strong need to laugh and forget about all the death, anxiety, uncertainty, inefficiency, greed, gaslighting, and depression. Streaming all those albums and shows allowed me to escape hell on Earth for hours at a time. I honestly think they helped keep me alive and safe at home while thousands of my people died (and are still dying, BTW).
I think this explains my weird Deadliest Catch fixation, or tendency to binge-watch documentaries and science-fiction/fantasy series and comedy specials. Either these programs are so set in their ways or so set in different worlds that COVID-19 rarely has chances to exist in or dominate them. If it does get a mention, it’s just in relation to something else or referred to in relatable, funny, and anxiety-soothing ways.
It also matters that streamers like Netflix are starting to provide localized content. We are part of this world, whether or not people like it and us, and we want to see content made specifically for us. Enough of the Americentrism and Eurocentrism; what about us ‘Kayumanggi’ here in the Pacific??? When and in what forms will we see inoffensive and accurate representation that isn’t just for Filipino-Americans, but also for Filipinos right here in the motherland?
Apart from the shows I’ve already mentioned, here are some of the content that made me happy over the past 21 months.
- Midnight Diner – Watch the original series or Seasons 1-3 + Tokyo Stories or Seasons 4-5. Reddit also pointed me to WatchAsian.sh for the two movies. You’re welcome.
- We are the Champions
- Love Death + Robots
- Penguin Town
- The Witcher
- This is Pop
- The Movies that Made Us
- Comedy specials – Check out Ali Wong, Ronny Chieng, John Mulaney, Bo Burnham, and Taylor Tomlinson
- Binging with Babish
- Life Where I’m From
- Never Too Small
- Girl with the Dogs
- The Canadian Lad – The YouTuber that popularized viewing Marvel Studios movies at 0.25x speed
- TBA Studios – This Filipino production company has uploaded some of its most popular films on YouTube, including Smaller and Smaller Circles, Sunday Beauty Queen, Heneral Luna, K’Na the Dreamweaver, and Women of the Weeping River
- Deadliest Catch: Bloodline
- Dr. Pimple Popper – Guilty pleasure!
- Good Eats
- Bizarre Foods and Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations
- Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives
- Framing Britney Spears and Controlling Britney Spears
- How It’s Made
- Dark Side of the Ring.