How you can overcome and defeat the dreaded backlog


It’s easier than ever to amass a large backlog of media – too easy, perhaps. Having too many options for entertainment is a minuscule problem with a level of privilege, but it’s a common problem nonetheless.

Streaming services offer a wide on-demand selection of existing content and new exclusives, typically for less than $10 a month. Even one streaming service gives access to more content than anyone can watch in a single lifetime, but a large portion of audiences have more than one, exponentially raising the amount of content they can access.

Further complicating this is how streaming content is separating in the ugliest divorce I’ve seen since my parents. Since streaming has become more lucrative, every company seems to be launching its own platform instead of licensing content to larger services. Streaming was once considered a better alternative than paying for cable channels, but now the entertainment industry has come full circle, causing viewers to buy more services for certain shows.

The backlog issue isn’t limited to movies and shows. Technological advancements have allowed the games industry to create streaming services for games of varying quality. Microsoft’s Game Pass leads the trend with a solid selection of games at a competitive price, and most online subscriptions for consoles include a library of content. Digital storefronts also periodically offer low sales, with a prime example being the infamous wallet-draining Steam Summer Sale.

Between the massive scale of streaming libraries and dirt-cheap digital games, it’s overwhelming to open the backlog and choose between hundreds of options – and that’s a cautious estimate. When looking for something new, scrolling through what seems like an infinite amount of picture boxes makes it difficult to commit to anything. Sometimes it’s easier to just watch something you already like, or close the app without watching anything whatsoever.

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

There’s no shame in returning to the same content that brings someone comfort, but for others who want to experience new content, their backlogs present a mountainous struggle. With summer break approaching, students, in particular, may have more free time for entertainment, which many desperately need after a year of stress and isolation. If this problem sounds familiar, then perhaps the following tips can help those diving into their backlogs.

A great starting point for finding what to watch or play is asking friends for suggestions. They can offer perspectives on the quality of content being considered, recommend the best and help avoid disappointment. Experiencing media with friends is a great bonding experience, and now that the CDC allows fully vaccinated individuals to have small gatherings in homes, students will soon be able to safely hang out with friends again.

Vaccinated friends can finally start shows they’ve saved for their next get-together, and local multiplayer games that were collecting dust can finally be opened. As for those who aren’t vaccinated yet – side note, please get vaccinated – there are still options. Starting online multiplayer games is a great way to stay connected, and some streaming services offer online watch-together features to tide viewers over until they can watch together offline.

Don’t have much time for entertainment? Keeping an eye on runtime can help narrow down choices for those with a strict schedule and want something short. Most streaming services show how long their movies are, and with some light addition of episode lengths, the same can be determined for shows. Games have flexible runtimes as interactive media, but is a great resource to find average completion times.

If staying current with upcoming content is a priority, start with media that will receive another season or sequel. Having content to look forward to is a fantastic motivator to start earlier entries. Alternatively, any series on hiatus is great for those who prefer to avoid spoilers and experience it without finding major story beats while scrolling Twitter. (To the hooligan that spoiled the “DuckTales” finale for me: you monster.)

Speaking of motivation, another key motivator for audiences is the aforementioned issue of content going away. When content leaves its current service, either because of licensing issues or switching services, a time limit is given for viewers who want to watch it. Nothing says “I should play ‘Hotline Miami’ and ‘Final Fantasy IX’ right this second” like knowing that both will be removed from Game Pass later in May.

Unfortunately, not every piece of media will be as entertaining as anticipated. It’s important to give second chances in case a rough first impression doesn’t represent the piece as a whole, but nobody is obligated to see a movie or show to the end. Set a specific threshold after which a piece of media is dropped if it’s not entertaining, saving time that can be put towards other backlogged media.

The same applies to entertainment that starts off good but fizzles out towards the end. Star Wars fans, rejoice; no one is forced to end their movie marathon with “The Rise of Skywalker.” Or, for those who love “Super Mario Sunshine” but hate playing through its unfortunately named final level, there is no law that says the game can’t end when the player is satisfied and puts the controller down.

Ultimately, these are only suggestions, and it’s up to individuals to decide how they spend their free time. After all, entertainment is a way to unwind, and it isn’t anyone’s job to watch or play media the whole way through. (Unless you’re me. This is literally my job description.) However, for those who feel intimidated by their abundance of entertainment options, hopefully, these tips are helpful in streamlining relaxation time.

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Opinions Editor | + posts

Sean Mullins (she/they) is the opinions editor and webmaster for the Journal. She is a media studies major and professional writing minor at Webster University, but she's participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Her passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment mediums. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club. She enjoys playing games, spending time with friends, LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy, streaming, making terrible puns and listening to music.