The Accessibility Revolution of the VOD

VODs are an accessibility feature, but we don’t think of them that way because they also benefit non-disabled people. Once upon a time at the dawn of broadcasting, most shows were broadcast once. Technology limited what was feasible and profitable.

But even when the technology changed, the industry clung to the idea that exclusivity drove their ad revenue (the main way shows broadcast for free could profit on them if it wasn’t a community supported or government funded non-profit.)

Part of the draw of the pre-broadcast entertainment industry was the exclusivity. “You had to be there!” Shows were marketed with FOMO. Live entertainment is still like this. Part of the draw is you won’t get another chance.

So broadcasts come in and they’re still in that mentality, even if it’s prerecorded. You gotta tune in for the big show or you’ll miss out. Occasionally something was big enough to be worth doing reruns. When VCRs came out, their business was selling you the boxed set to rewatch.

Programmable VCR home recording changed everything. Suddenly people didn’t have to be there on the broadcast schedule and could keep copies to watch and rewatch. They could also skip the commercials. This is how media piracy can be transformative. It was a consumer revolution.

The studios absolutely hated it & made a huge fuss. It also began fandom as we know it today. People recording Star Trek when they weren’t up to watching it because they were sick or tired or busy let more people access it. Suddenly people could watch every episode & analyze it.

This generated huge interest because suddenly way more people could get way more into it. So many that conventions formed. This wasn’t the only one, but it was a big one. It got big enough and profitable enough to invite guest speakers from the show.

There was a stigma against being so into something, once usually reserved for book fans and academics. Intellectuals long saw the exclusivity of difficulty, formal training, and lack of access without vetting to be marks someone wasn’t worthy of truly engaging in meaningful work.

Media being free, targeted at the masses, and often made to be easier to process had it poo-pooed by a lot of story gatekeepers who saw the challenge as the point. And so too has that translated into people who think you’re only dedicated to media if you were always there.

This is where a lot of exclusivity and difficulty culture in nerdom came from, by the way, and much of the dynamics of nerdom excluding people and then feeling excluded when people thought they were weird for being so into something inaccessible to most people.

They didn’t get it because they didn’t get it. We made access on a physical and emotional level too hard. It limited the audience, which limited the creators to what was possible to make and survive by only making what the audience things were accessible would buy.

This became conventional wisdom. It still is and what most of the fight against various gatekeeping is about. Ultimately gatekeeping is about limiting the audience that can come in so you only get the stories you want to see made, to hold creators hostage to your bidding.

TiVo came in next and further revolutionized people’s ability to record. It was easier to use (more accessible) and could record multiple things without having to change tapes which let people leave it longer and follow more shows this way (accessibility).

Eventually you got Netflix by mail, which hugely opened up people’s access to boxed sets that took up way too much room at the video rental store. Plus, all other kinds of more obscure things. Without needing to leave the house or pay late fees, which was far more accessible.

Shows began to realize that it was getting easier and easier to count on people seeing every episode in order, which let them stretch themselves into longer stories where episodes built on each other. This was completely unknown artistic territory for a lot of studios.

Eventually this moved to streaming. Now you didn’t have to plan anything ahead of time. Want to see that movie or show right this 2nd? You don’t have to go anywhere, you can instantly see it’s in stock, & everyone can borrow it at once without scarcity. This changed EVERYTHING.

We started getting shows where it was assumed you’d watched everything in order on your own time. Suddenly shows could be more like book series. They could contain the full longer complicated story of a book series. We’d never seen this done before on a mass scale.

The revolution of podcasting showed a whole new kind of serial narrative form was possible where average people could make complex serialized stories that built on each other for hundreds of episodes and people would listen. More voices and stories got heard. They had access.

Equipment prices were still a big barrier, but as more small creators did things, there became a viable market to sell equipment to them and more affordable products got made. Which further grew the number of people participating. All enabled by accessibility.

Video platforms like Newgrounds, Machinima, YouTube create a boom in access to distribution for small creators with a smaller specific audience big studios and traditional distribution could never support. Some big gates came crashing down.

It was accessible to people who would otherwise not be given the time of day to ask the world it they wanted their art directly. There was such an incredible boom in experimentation and the kinds of stories being told and styles.

Even if they were fun and just amusing like Homestar Runner, Badger Badger Badger, or Charlie the Unicorn, they were completely revolutionary in their own way. But times changes so quickly and completely with such rapid access that we just say it as normal and frivolous.

This is the landscape that enables grander sequential projects like the MCU and TTRPG livestreams come into. The old conventional wisdom that the exclusivity of audience will generate audience has been proven false. Technologically the revolution happened.

(Now we’re into an era where the accessibility of the content of the story comes into question. What stories and who’s stories do we turn our attention to enough with attention and dollars to monetarily support that they can keep making them.

Capitalism sucks, but it’s the reality we’re currently living it. Giving people the resources and audience to make things you actually want is necessary for survival right now and to make sure those stories are getting told.

TTRPG Actual Plays developed only in a world where so much accessibility has opened up what can be made on a technical and audience level. It’s growing its audience from early adopters to a wider and wider audience.

Once again people are afraid of different stories they don’t like and gatekeeping who should have a voice. There’s a ton of politics of power that of course comes with this that while hugely important are out of the scope of this thread. Diversity is the larger untapped audience.

I’m really grateful for this history of accessibility that lets me have a bad brain night but not miss the hugely important events of a show I love and get to experience the magic first hand rather than just missing out. Really keeps me invested and here in fandom.

If you enjoy my work, consider supporting me through ko-fi, or my shop. I’m severely disabled and it all helps justify my time spent on this project. Learn more about how and why to support me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.