Every day, my sicko coworkers drop galaxy brain takes and all manners of cursed content into our Slack channel. Sometimes it’s obscene gifs that no one should be subjected to. Today, it’s also this Fast Company article claiming that the “+” branding streaming services have glommed onto is, in fact, good.
I had fully expected our streaming services whiz Catie Keck to deliver a blistering rebuttal. Alas, Catie is a traitor who, after several months of covering Quibi and the debacle that is HBO Max, has agreed that yes, the “+” branding convention is good for the consumer. So I’m sorry, reader, you’re stuck with me.
The argument is that the “+” is a simple signifier. If you see Brand Name+, you supposedly understand what it is instantaneously. No further explanation needed. I will concede that the HBO naming debacle preceding the hilariously botched HBO Max launch lends some credence to this line of thinking. That said, in my opinion, the simpler explanation is the geniuses behind HBO’s branding, are in fact, idiots who would’ve cocked it up even if it were HBO Max+ or whatever.
Reviewing gadgets for a living, I’ve learned that the vast majority of readers aren’t stupid. If they don’t understand something, it’s because it either wasn’t communicated clearly (HBO Max, Quibi), or the product itself is half-baked (also HBO Max and Quibi). This is true of digital services as well. NBC named its streaming service Peacock and I’d gather most people were capable of figuring out what it was. When I heard about CBS All Access, did I think the name was kind of stupid? Yes. Was it confusing to understand? No! If Disney had decided to call Disney+, I don’t know, Mickey Mouse’s Streamboat Jamboree, I would’ve wondered what braindead executive came up with the name—but I don’t think it would’ve been hard to understand it was a Disney streaming service. You know what was more confusing? Why CBS All Access suddenly decided to rebrand to Paramount+. (If it were going to jump on the + train, what was wrong with CBS+ or Viacom+?)
For better or worse, subscription tiers aren’t anything new. Since pretty much birth, I’ve understood the difference between regular broadcast TV and cable TV and premium cable TV. I don’t need it to be called TV, TV+, TV Super+ to get that one is free, one requires you to pay a moderate amount, and one requires you to pay even more. In ye olde days of the tube TV, it wasn’t hard to understand what Showtime and HBO were, in relation to other television channels. Likewise, it doesn’t require a master’s degree to understand a media company wants you to pay for access to streaming content—whatever it ends up being called.
Honestly, the “+” isn’t even uniformly used. Apple TV is a set-top box, but the service is Apple TV+. Apple News+ is not a news streaming service; it’s a paid version of Apple News. It’s Hulu Plus, not Hulu+. For something to be conventional shorthand, everyone’s got to use it in the same way for the same thing.
Furthermore, the + connotes you’re getting something extra. Except there’s often no extra, additional value. For instance, there is no free version of Disney+. So here I am, wondering if the + means “streaming service” or “paid version of an existing service that doesn’t have a +.” This is madness. This is idiocy.
The lack of a + doesn’t tarnish a service if it’s good. I understand what Netflix is just fine. A Netflix+ would be unnecessary and I have no idea what Netflix+ would even be. Crunchyroll is streaming for anime and I have never needed it to be Anime+ or Otaku+ or some other iteration of weeby cringe. I believe when I first heard about Crunchyroll, someone said, “Oh it’s a streaming service for anime.” And I went, “Oh cool. Got it.”
No more +. Stop. May I suggest the word “Pro” or “Premium” or just naming your streaming service some simple and intuitive? May I present the deeply unsexily named Amazon Prime Video? Simple, no + in sight and I implicitly understand that if I pay for Amazon Prime, I get some video streaming channel as well. And even if I didn’t, I got 10,000 emails from Amazon in my spam folder explaining it.
Stop it. You media companies are all vying for my money and I have severe subscription fatigue. If you want me to fork over the cash, make a service that’s good. If it’s good, I don’t care what you call it, so long as it’s not Plus+.