These days streaming is more fragmented than it’s ever been. While the market was previously dominated by a select few (our best streaming services list contains some of them), it seems just about everyone has launched their own premium service. Because why shouldn’t they try and capitalize on their own content, rather than letting someone else reap in the rewards?
But earlier this week I saw an announcement that takes this trend to new extremes. The latest streaming service to hit the scene has a single show: A British game show called Taskmaster. The service in question is called Taskmaster SuperMax Plus — really.
I can understand signing up to a streaming service to watch a single show. In that case you at least have the option of checking out everything else on offer. However, signing up to a service that only has a single show, and charges $6/£6 a month for the privilege, is absolutely crazy.
What the heck is Taskmaster?
For those that don’t know, Taskmaster has nothing to do with the Marvel comics villain. It’s a comedy-centric game show hosted by comedian Greg Davies and series creator Alex “Little Alex Horn” Horn. Each season features five guests, usually comedians, who have to compete against each other by completing a series of bizarre and inane challenges.
The grand winner at the end of each season gets to go home with a golden trophy - shaped like Davies’s head. It takes a special kind of show to give away a grand prize that is best described as Poundland’s take on the BAFTA.
There’s no denying that Taskmaster is a successful show. 12 seasons have already been made, and a 13th is due to arrive later this year. And, like any successful show, it’s been sold off to broadcasters around the world — including Comedy Central, who broadcast a single season hosted by Reggie Watts back in 2018.
Taskmaster is fun to watch as well, which generally happens when you put seven comedians in a room and ask them to do stupid things on camera.
Why is this one show getting its own streaming service?
As fun as the show may be, I’m not sure it's $6 a month worth of fun. Especially since Taskmaster SuperMax Plus currently only has four seasons of the show to offer. A fifth is coming on March 18, but even then your money only gets you 32 hour-long episodes.
Frankly I’m not convinced this isn’t some elaborate April Fool’s joke that someone decided to announce three weeks early. Even the name suggests that this whole thing is an elaborate gag designed to satirize the increasingly-fragmented streaming business.
And maybe it is, but it may also be not. Both Alex Horn and executive producer Jon Thoday seem to be completely serious about the whole endeavor. When asked, they repeatedly told The Guardian that the whole thing is an experiment, and have no idea if it will actually work.
As to the why, it’s all down to trying to make the show a success in the United States - a territory Taskmaster has struggled to break into over the years.
In addition to the short-lived Comedy Central version, which Thoday admits “didn’t really work”, The CW purchased the rights to broadcast the original British show back in 2020. However, after the debut episode only managed to bring in 212,000 viewers, some of the lowest ratings the network reported that summer, The CW canned the show. Its slot in the schedule was replaced with re-runs of Supernatural’s final season.
Who is this really for?
Here in the U.K. Taskmaster SuperMax Plus is basically redundant. Every single episode of the series is available on All 4, a free to watch streaming/catch up service operated by public broadcaster Channel 4.
While All 4 is pretty infamous for the number of ads it shows, much to Tom’s Guide Editor in Chief Marc McLaren’s chagrin, there is a £4 a month subscription that offers 1,500 shows without ads. Taskmaster is one of those shows, making the £6 a month dedicated subscription pretty-much worthless.
In the U.S., that’s not the case. The primary way people can stream the series is via YouTube clips and compilations, and they’re not the same as watching entire episodes. Still, it turns out those videos are picking up an increasing number of American viewers, suggesting the show has potential to resonate with a larger audience on that side of the Atlantic.
So this new streamer is more for the sake of viewers from the U.S., and other countries where Taskmaster isn’t available, than anything else. Horne even suggested that international versions of Taskmaster could be made available in future. Though, presumably, that would have to wait until after the full British run is online.
Still, even then this seems like a truly bizarre idea — even coming from a man who literally thinks up bizarre ideas for a living.
The crazy thing is it might work. And that conjures up a bunch of new possible problems for streaming. After all, if you can rake in money charging $6 a month for one show, why would you offer them all for a few bucks more?
Maybe I’m being overdramatic, but it would not be surprising if that actually happened. After all, Hollywood is a sucker for a money-making scheme. Whether it’s cheap 3D movie conversions, excessive merchandising, or cutting out the middle men in the streaming business.
In a world where streaming is getting more like cable every day, it’s not surprising for networks to use one or two major shows or franchises to try and bring people in. Paramount Plus has Star Trek, Disney Plus has Marvel and Star Wars, Apple TV Plus apparently owns Tom Hanks, Peacock has… The Office, I guess.
But as fragmented as the situation becomes, I never thought I’d see a service that was designed to offer a single show — nothing more, nothing less. In fact I still can’t quite grasp that this is something someone did. Experiment or not, Taskmaster Supermax Plus seems like an idea doomed to fail.
Or maybe I’m wrong and this is the shape of things to come. Frankly, I’d rather Greg Davies turn up at my house, slap me across the face, and shout at me for falling for such an obvious prank.