June 24, 2019

How changing media consumption habits will affect the future of movies and media at large

In a recent interview for the New York Times, actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani lamented the future of movies as small and medium productions fail to capture the attention of larger ones, even as the theaters featuring those start to become less popular.

The biggest fish get all the food

Nanjiani says the average person goes to a movie theater four times a year and only for the largest productions that draw in the most people. To add to this, people weigh their decision to go depending on whether or not a film is worth watching in a theater. Indeed, even for filmgoers, it’s now becoming too easy to talk ourselves out of physically going to movies that are:

  • Less of a large-scale Avengers Endgame visual spectacle
  • Too emotionally taxing or complex to commit a night off to
  • Not worth the money relative to their genre (such as comedies)
  • Good, but that we’re just as happy to wait to download or stream

The pros and cons of the streaming model

While one would think that less screentime in a movie theater simply means more opportunities online, Nanjiani points out that the decreased pressure of box office sales is both a good and bad thing for smaller productions.

The prestige of being displayed in a physical space—whether that be for moving or still images—still remains as does respect for the theater as an institution. To that end, Nanjiani feels movies in theaters still have a better chance of entering the mainstream consciousness over those periodically dumped into the “New on Netflix” section.

Sink or swim

However, the biggest threat to film may simply be that audiences stop liking them and the physical (and expensive) spaces that display them might have to change as people have less and less patience to commit to a singular activity.

There are already plenty of people who grew up on movies and TV that have made peace with their nostalgia and moved onto other—some might say more democratized—media for their recreational consumption like podcasts. This, combined with a generation that grew up on more YouTube and online video could be yet another turning point.

And it’s not necessarily just an issue of the medium—we’ve all been there where we binge entire 12-plus-hour Netflix series—but more-so that we as people are resistant to sitting through a two-hour feature film.

“If you look at those people bingeing Netflix shows, they’re doing other things at the same time, or they’re on their phone,” Nanjiani says. “So it’s not that people think watching a movie is difficult, it’s that they think just watching that movie is difficult.”

That said, it would be too easy to say it’s purely an issue of today’s audiences being busy, impatient and non-committal. After all, Hamilton is credited with reinvigorating Broadway and professional live theatre as a medium by inspiring younger, diverse audiences that might otherwise be disenchanted with stage classics that might not be as relevant anymore.

As Broadway’s film counterpart, Hollywood is likewise tackling its own issues of relevance as competitive streaming platforms continue to access more people in their homes with cinema-grade series that speak to them enough to command most of if not all of their attention. What’s more, is a movie theater has to compete with better and better home systems while it’s safe to say there’s less equivalent competition for live performance.

The next mediums

So, it’s certain that movies are here to stay, but what of the spaces that show them? Could they start luring people back through their doors or will they have to make way for new mediums that can bring a crowd together, but let them do their own thing at the same time?

We’ve already seen how movie theatres, along with malls and big box stores have closed down to become arenas for esports, which has successfully transitioned from a small-scale private (and stigmatized) activity to become a profitable form of public entertainment. A recent study by the National Research Group showed that Fortnite players spend 21% of all their free-time playing the game. The future of media was already in flux, and it won’t become any clearer going forward. If the current landscape is to be modeled out, we’re likely to see a lot of smaller, more niche communities (with their relevant media) break off while the huge blockbusters continue to thrive and battle it out.

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