It’s not that I don’t get it, I can’t get it!

There’s another issue looming on the Hugo Awards horizon:

Streaming video.

Not to mention premium access cable,

and who knows what other delivery medium(s) that may come down the pike over the next handful of years.

Until very recently, Hugo voters in North America could pretty much count on everyone having access to the same shows, with little to no (or at least customary) expense associated with that access.

Things have been changing.  I, for example, do not get HBO (nor any of the other premium movie channels).  Which means that I can’t watch Game of Thrones, which means that I don’t vote for Game of Thrones, not because it isn’t a worthy property, but because neither I, nor anyone else, should vote for things they are not familiar with.

Personally, that’s a minor issue for me.  I’m not that much into fantasy (ok, so it might have some SF elements looming) nor soap operas.

But what about The Man in the High Castle?  That’s on Amazon Prime.  Or the new Star Trek Discovery coming to CBS’ premium streaming service.  Or Jessica Jones on Netflix.  Or some series on Hulu.

Right now, “TV” shows can be delivered to you through broadcast, cable, through multiple paid streaming services, through your gaming console and VR (strap your phone into a goggle system) is beginning to rev up.

An individual wanting to have access to everything that might be eligible will soon need to spend a tidy sum; internet access, multiple premium cable channels, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix subscriptions, two (or more) gaming consoles, a VR headset (and who knows what subscriptions) and, potentially, subscriptions to streaming services offered by multiple broadcasters and indie streaming outlets.

God forbid you actually like everything they’re putting out.  Individually, subscriptions to these services are a minor expense;  collectively, we’re talking the potential for a couple of hundred bucks a month.  The expense associated with accessing media other than literature will soon be as much, if not more, as the literature expenses.

This poses a nominating and voting problem.  Hugo voters don’t get courtesy DVDs from the production company.

It may very well be in the near future that nominations and final votes break down along access/affordability lines.  CBS’s new Star Trek show might be the best Star Trek ever (I’m doubting that, but…), but if the majority of nominators in a given year don’t have a subscription to the CBS streaming service, it won’t even get on the ballot, and not because it isn’t quality or “Hugo-Worthy”, merely because not enough voters had the desire or financial wherewithal to engage with it.

(I can see the same thing happening with literature in the future, but that’s for another discussion.)

On some respects that is analogous to issues facing non-NA voters in every category.  Obtaining works under consideration (for nomination) may be impossible or prohibitively expensive.

Indeed, we, individually, may not even be aware of a property until it is too late to obtain for nomination purposes.

Two things are in operation here.  One is the ever-increasing pace of new developments, for which there is no standard WSFS procedure for analyzing and possibly incorporating into the awards (someone ought to be watching VR closely).  The other is a growing divide between haves and have-nots.  And being a have-not is not strictly financial; not all cable providers offer the same channels; cable may not be available locally.  A “broadcaster” (even the term definitions are changing) might not be carried in your region (Comet TV as one example.  They’re not doing original programming right now, but if they are successful they will be and I simply do not have access to it.)

Before this situation becomes the norm, perhaps we ought to start thinking about its implications.  If the “best SF television show EVAH!” is never even nominated for a Hugo merely because not enough eligible voters have subscribed to some obscure streaming service, the legitimacy of the award – at least in the applicable categories – will legitimately be called into question.

We may need to be thinking about expanding the media-based awards and splitting those categories into “general availability” and “limited access” groupings (which poses a problem for feature-length films released through theaters first).

It’s one thing to not vote for something because it doesn’t interest you, and another thing to watch something and not vote for it because you don’t think it worthy, but it is an entirely different thing to not even be able to access something that everyone else is saying you need to see.

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  1. Sam, to some degree. It isn’t so much a new situation as it is an additive one; television (and to a large degree film) have been generally accessible and free or relatively inexpensive, not to mention customary, for decades.

  2. Yes, but isn’t that also true of stories in sf magazines that need a subscription in order to read? And no one can afford to buy all the SF books published in a year either.

  3. I’ve been talking about this for some time. I’ve been wanting to cut back on how much I spend on television, but it’s difficult to figure out the best way to do it. The Dish Flex Pack doesn’t have my local CW station — gotta have my superhero fix. MSNBC is the only network I watch in the news pack — it that worth the extra $10 a month by itself?

    And I still would have to set up an antenna to get the side channels for the local stations. That’s been a project in itself, since the TV is in a room without windows, so it means stringing a lot of cable. And those channels, at least in my area, don’t split themselves into separate shows in the Dish program guide — they’re just indicated as “digital channel.” So I can’t set anything to record.

    I’m maxed out on streaming channels with Netflix and Amazon. I’m hoping to subscribe to CBS All Access just long enough to stream the new TREK show, binge it then cancel it. I’m not sure if they’ll allow that once that show gets started. But there could be all kinds of great things on Hulu or any number of other streaming services and I’m not going to know about them because I don’t want to spend any more money.

    So who knows what awards nominations will look like, not to mention the spitting of the audience into haves and have-nots? I realize I’m bitching about stuff that a lot of fans wish they could afford at all.

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