The New Era of Media Consumption
Somewhere in Queens there’s a theatre that got stuck in time. People walk past texting, posting and streaming, and yet it stays perfectly still, its elegant red carpets and basking neon lights a perfect remnant of the moment in which it was conceived. But it stands amidst a graveyard.
The way in which people are entertained has evolved more rapidly than even people themselves. The art deco movie palaces of yesteryear have parted and made way for the multiplex chain cinemas of yesterday, which in turn will make way for another contender on the playing field. And it is not coming silently.
In 2007, a small company named Netflix decided to launch something called a streaming service. The term, which is commonplace in the mouth of any child today, was practically gibberish in these early days, when people still felt a sufficient drive to walk to a theatre or to a Blockbuster Video store, if they wished to be entertained. Blockbuster itself, which effectively became a dinosaur in the decade that followed, warded off the young Netflix, after its founders’ repeated attempts to develop a partnership with the then-giant.
But, when your trade is convenience and comfort, people take notice fast. After realizing their fast success, competition began brewing. Hulu followed Netflix’s suit, launching its streaming service in 2008. Even initially non-media companies such as Amazon stepped into the game, with Prime Instant Video debuting in 2011.
Today, hundreds of streaming services flood phone screens, such as the newly added Disney Plus, which launched on November 12, 2019 and was said to have 10 million sign ups after launch day. And although most people can’t even name all the streaming services that already exist, there are still more to come with HBO Max (May 2020) and Peacock (April 2020). Today, 74 percent of American households subscribe to at least one streaming service, but many don’t examine the substantial effect it will have on their content.
One irrefutable fact that must be acknowledged is that streaming services have made watching content much more accessible. Rather than having to go outside to purchase tickets at a movie theatre, one never has to leave their couch to watch a full length film at their leisure. This fact especially, has driven streaming platforms to enormous popularity with our nation’s youth.
“I think streaming services are more reasonable,” said 17-year-old Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) film major Livia Santos-Havrilak, while decrying the less accessible ancestors of the streaming platform. “I think you pay a monthly amount and you get a wide variety of options to watch from.”
Many of her peers concur with Livia’s opinions, and while the movie theatre is not exactly dead in the hands of Generation Z, it may be nearing its senior years. Evidence can be found in the lack of willingness some possess to watching a movie in the traditional form, where one must cope with larger prices and louder companions, when they know that they have a younger, fresher option in the streaming platform.
“If I know a movie is going to be on HBO in two months, I probably won’t see it,” said Madelyne Greenberg, a 17-year-old vocal major at FSSA.
It’s opinions like these, that have become commonplace in an era that is so fraught with booming content, that a $20-a-movie budget falls hardly within anybody’s price-range. And streaming services, themselves vying to stay afloat amidst their own boom of competition, have taken advantage of this, oftentimes unbeknownst to the average media consumer.
Companies like Netflix know that the people of this nation have become spoiled with an internet that overflows with important actions that take place at every second, and every day. And as the amount of events that grasp for attention booms, the span of that attention, uncontrollably shirks and shrinks.
Contributing to the attention span problem for the youth of today, is the fact that, while watching something at home via a streaming service, it’s all too easy to pick up a phone to check a text or collect resources for a mobile game. Even though it may only take a second, a second can turn into a minute, and a minute into two, and onward from there. While it may not seem like much, this minor distraction hinders the experience that the filmmakers try to provide and takes the viewer out of the world they valiantly attempt to immerse you in.
In an effort to combat the wavering attention spans of its subscribers (and perhaps take advantage of it), Netflix has begun to silently test a feature where viewers can play movies and TV shows at twice their original speed. The response has been polarizing.
“In my opinion, it’s disrespectful to the art, to the director, and to the actors,” Aidan Lawrence, an FSSA drama major stated.
It’s easy to understand where Aidan is coming from. Every well-crafted film is put together precisely, with subtleties that can only be picked up by an enthralled viewer. By speeding up a film, not only are those subtleties lost, but everything that contributed to that film’s pacing is practically thrown away. With the ability to play movies at twice the speed, watching something becomes less about enjoying being transported into a new world, and more about figuring out what happens as fast as possible.
Mr. Spagnuoli, who is in his third year of teaching film at FSSA, gave an equally negative reaction to this proposed feature. “I think it’s terrible,” said Mr. Spagnuoli, who grew up in an age where movie theatres were still commonplace. “If you don’t like it, then you can just turn it off, but to speed through a film or a television show, I think what that’s doing is catering to the ADHD nation that we are now becoming, where we have no patience for anything.”
However, there are some streaming service subscribers who appreciate this addition. Livia said everybody should have the ability to watch at their own leisure.
“I don’t think that there is a specific way to watch a movie. So if you have that option and you want to take it, you have every right to take it,” she added.
While it is wonderful that streaming services are able to provide this accessibility and leisure to their subscribers, it is ultimately undeniable that the movies were made for the big screen and the full theatre experience. The major box office yields for blockbusters such as The Force Awakens or Avengers: Endgame, serve as a testament that there are still audiences out there who want to be fully immersed in a dark room surrounded by people all brought together by the same thing: To watch something absolutely awesome unfold in front of their eyes.
“I saw the newest Star Wars, The Force Awakens at the Ziegfeld,” said Madelyne. “And I remember being in that audience and hearing the [the opening Star Wars score] and everyone cheering. That’s something you truly don’t get anywhere else.”
In the end, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a single grown person out there who hasn’t had their version of Madelyne’s experience. For Aidan, it was watching Quentin Tarantino’s latest release, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.
“That experience at the cinema was incredible,” he recalled. “It’s an event. You maybe don’t go every week, but once a month you spend that extra $20 to have an evening.”
And some, like Mr. Spagnuoli, are even more generous with their movie theatre budget. “I think all movies should be seen in a theatre,” he states. “Sound design, the way certain theatres have stereo surround sound speakers, it’s a part of the experience. Yeah sure, we can have home entertainment systems, but it’s not the same.”
To that effect, it’s hard to know if the experience of watching a movie will ever be the same. If the rise of Netflix can give way to such a revolution in barely more than a decade, it’s impossible to predict what the next few years will have in store for our entertainment systems.
We can rest assured however, in the midst of this uncertainty and instability, that some things will never change. To yearn for a story is a universal aspect of the human spirit.
And whether it’s an ancient Greek drama, Victorian opera, movie, television show, or streaming series, the only thing that is really ever altered is the way that story is told. The feeling you get from it never changes. And that is because a movie, when done right, has the power to make all people, from all ages, and all times feel the exact same thing, at the exact same moment.
That power is magic and magic is beyond our petty human hands to destroy, because when it’s gone it takes our humanity along with it.
– by Alec Inagamov ’20 and Zachary Maxwell ’20