Streaming Services have been the subject of much debate and controversy in recent months. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney +, HBO Max, and Crunchyroll are changing the way animation is consumed and distributed. According to Forbes, the Streaming Video viewership has outpaced that of Broadcast TV. Streaming Video is here to stay, so what are the pros and cons for animation?
Of traditional networks that focus on cartoons, the big 3 are Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel. While these networks have passionate fan bases of young adults, they are ultimately channels that are creating TV for 6 to 11-year-olds.
Creators for any of these networks will tell you that it’s hard to get a show green-lit with a long-form plot. Traditional cartoon channels want comedy- focused series with episodes that can be watched in any order. There’s no incentive for long-form storytelling because kids love comedy cartoons and some might feel lost if they miss an episode.
One last treat. Ever curious about the fights I had with the censors on Gravity Falls? I probably shouldn't share this buttttt here are some REAL NOTES from DISNEY S&P and my REAL REPLIES. You are not prepared #10YearsOfGravityFalls pic.twitter.com/EioKU8gIJJ— Alex Hirsch (@_AlexHirsch) June 16, 2022
There have been many great programs made for kids, but creators have had to fight tooth and nail against overbearing “standards and practices” and network restrictions. Gravity Falls creator, Alex Hirsch gave a hilarious example of how suppressive it can be to work for the Disney Channel.
Many creators both male and female have stated that it’s harder to get a series green-lit with a female protagonist because shows live or die based on toy sales. The toy industry has a history of segregating boys’ and girls’ toys and there are plenty of parents who would throw a fit if they caught their child playing with a toy not reflective of their birth-gender.
With Streaming Services, you can create series that focus on long-form storytelling in a way that’s easily organized. Additionally, streaming is not based on the toy-sale model so there isn’t a business bias for discriminating against female protagonists or racially diverse or queer characters, for that matter.
Streaming also allows for narrative-driven adult animation that’s PG-13 or higher. We need more animated programs that put plot, drama, and character development as first priority as opposed to episodic comedy. The positive potential for Streaming Services is the creation of animated programs and films that could not have existed on traditional channels. There would be no Adult Animation Revolution without streaming. The accessibility and organization that streaming provides allows niche projects to reach a massive audience.
Waves were made when Netflix pulled the plug on seven new animated projects including Midnight Gospel and Bone. Months later, HBO Max suddenly removed forty animated series from its platform including fan favorites like Infinity Train. A series like Infinity Train challenges its audiences and explores complex themes like divorce. This series could have had a continued positive impact on kids going through a difficult life transition. Now Infinity Train has become Lost Media and when HBO Max deletes its original content it’s destroying works of art.
Another casualty of the streaming purge was the cancellation of the original film, Driftwood by Victor Courtright. As if to rub salt in the wound, Courtright’s previous series, Aquaman: King of Atlantis has also been deleted. Driftwood looked like a perfect blend between Star Wars and Redwall and I hope Courtright can get the rights back to release the project elsewhere.
What’s really disturbing is the cancellation of Batman: Caped Crusader. Another animated Batman series at the height of the character’s popularity was sure to be an easy success. If they’ll kill Batman no one else is safe. This reckless, thoughtless, and heartless erasure of stories has annihilated the trust between streaming services, creators, and viewers.
Another criticism leveled at streaming services is that they produce too much new content and don’t properly curate or promote these new shows. Creators can produce an excellent original animated series and then be thrown into a sea of content and having to compete with IPs like Stranger Things and Star Wars. This adds the unnecessary pressure of a show needing high view counts immediately before getting another season. When the show ends after a single season, the entire creative team is now out of work.
I believe that there’s a lot of creative potential within the streaming space. The best cartoons of recent years have been narratively focused auteur projects that were given the right amount of creative freedom. A project like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio would never have come to fruition without the space that streaming provides. I genuinely believe that the quality, both visually and narratively, of animation has gone up across the board. This is why the people making this art need to be respected, protected, and paid as fairly as their live-action counterparts. There needs to be better communication between companies, creators, and audiences. Streaming Services are only as valuable as the Talent that creates their content and audiences are smart enough to follow the Talent wherever they go.