Reddit Community Lashes Out When Watcher Entertainment Launches Paywall: Is This the Start of a Revolution?

Spoilers

When the team at Watcher Entertainment announced that they would be leaving YouTube in order to post content exclusively on their own subscription-only page, they clearly thought that fans would be excited about the move.

They were very, very wrong.

The backlash against the digital media studio — which was founded in 2020 by a trio of former Buzzfeed employees — was swift and immediate.

Usually, an uproar from a company’s customer base is the sort of thing that’s met with a boilerplate apology and little else.

But in this case, the outcry on Reddit and on the group’s previous YouTube posts wound up having a significant impact.

Steven Lim

Earlier this week, Watcher’s three founders — Steven Lim, Ryan Bergara, and Shane Madej — made a video in which they reacted to the strong backlash against their unexpected business decision.

“We messed up,” CEO Lim said in the clip.

“We’ve been reading the things you’ve been saying, and we’re sorry for the way we handled this, as well as the way we communicated it. We understand where you’re coming from — and we’re making immediate changes,” Madej echoed.

Those “immediate changes” include making all of the studio’s content available for free on YouTube, one month after the videos are released to subscribers.

So it’s not a total capitulation to the demands of their current subscribers, but it is a pretty stunning about-face, given how gung-ho the Watcher leadership seemed to be about the move to subscription-only.

More importantly, the outcry is the latest evidence of growing discontent among American media consumers.

We’ve talked before about how the increasingly competitive streaming market is leading to fewer shows, smaller risks, faster cancellations, and a rapid increase in subscription fees.

If you’re like most Americans, you probably shell out a monthly sum for streaming services that would have seemed unimaginable to you a few short years ago.

Worse, some of those pay services probably force you to sit through commercials, an arrangement that feels like a violation of the core tenets of the TV Wacthers’ Contract.

Television that’s provided by a specific subscription-only service used to come with a commercial-free guarantee.

Danvers Looks Confused - True Detective Season 4 Episode 5

Sure, there were also ads on basic cable, but that was a situation in which cable or satellite customers received dozens or even hundreds of channels for one flat fee.

If HBO had responded to the success of The Sopranos by announcing that the show would now air with commercial breaks, you can be certain that the news would have been met with a sharp uptick in cancellations.

But it’s not just prices and commercials that have TV and movie fans reverting to piracy like a bunch of recidivist eye-patch enthusiasts.

There’s also the atomization of content, a natural consequence of a streaming market that offers roughly 1 bazillion different services.

There was a time when you could rest assured that popular movies and shows would eventually be hosted by one of the top two or three platforms.

Toranaga Handles the Paperwork - Shogun Season 1 Episode 10

If not, you could usually rent the title in question for a reasonable fee.

But these days, you might decide to rewatch Mad Men, only to discover that you can only do so by subscribing to AMC+.

Or, you might hear about a promising indie horror flick, only to discover that it’s airing exclusively on Shudder.

Hell, there’s a recent Best Picture Oscar winner — 2022’s CODA — that received a very limited physical release (you can’t even buy the DVD on Amazon), and can still only be streamed with an AppleTV+ subscription.

And there are concerns that Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed Killers of the Flower Moon — another Apple release — will meet a similar fate.

Martin Scorsese

These are frustrations that most of us have come to accept as a sad reality of the times in which we live.

But as the Watcher situation demonstrates, even in the age of Peak Streaming — when we’ve grown accustomed to paying for the sort of entertainment that we used to get for free — people still have a breaking point.

Watcher has a large following — over 2.8 million subscribers — but they only put out about one video every four to five days.

That’s all good when you’re providing free content, but asking folks to take on another subscription, all for roughly 30 minutes of entertainment per week?

Yeah, modern audiences are looking at streamers with multiple shows they enjoy — and dozens of others that they might eventually get into — and still deciding that another streamer is simply not in the budget.

The Morning After - Ted Lasso Season 3 Episode 12

Shelling out a monthly fee for what is essentially a weekly sitcom’s worth of content is asking a lot.

So the Watcher trio — having already experienced the one digital media burst bubble with the rapid decline of Buzzfeed — has now learned a hard lesson that’s likely to hit other creators very soon.

It looks like they’ll be able to recover, but we would guess that some longtime subscribers are feeling less of a kinship with Lim, Bergara, and Madej — and in today’s ultra-crowded media world, the relationship between creator and consumer is more important than ever.

What do you think, TV fanatics? Is this the beginning of a media revolution, or just a minor hiccup for some relatively obscure YouTubers? Hit the comments section below to share your thoughts!

Tyler Johnson is an Associate Editor for TV Fanatic and the other Mediavine O&O sites. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. You can Follow him on X and email him here at TV Fanatic.

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