I recently finished watching the second season of House of Cards on Netflix, and it got me thinking about two things: how much film and television have changed in my lifetime, and how it will continue to change. Television and film have evolved greatly over the past few decades, and there may be a point in my life when movies no longer premiere at theatres. The future of how we see film, television, and entertainment in general, may change significantly with the next few years.
When television first reached the mainstream in the mid 1950s, the film industry suffered. Everyone was staying at home watching TV shows rather than going out to the theatre and paying to see movies (as well as buying overpriced snacks at the concession stand). It seemed like movie theatres might cease to exist even back then, but Hollywood bounced back and the TV craze didn’t completely take over. Nowadays, multiple television networks are consistently delivering high quality entertainment, whereas Hollywood is content with pumping out uncreative sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots to no end. Will Hollywood face another crisis in the near future?
Today, TV is as prominent as ever, but there are other electronics to factor in that weren’t present back in the ‘50s: computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and other portable devices. You can buy movies digitally through outlets such as the iTunes Store, and Blu-rays and DVDs often come with digital copies, so you can have a portable movie library on any device. Movies are no longer restricted to just TV or the cinema. The biggest factor to influence a decline in theatre attendance is the internet.
Back in the ‘50s, people couldn’t instantly stream movies from Netflix or On Demand. Today we have so many options—Blu-ray and DVD, illegally downloading, Netflix, On Demand, renting—a lot of people prefer home entertainment over public theatres simply out of convenience. Movie theatres definitely have their fair share of undesirable aspects. First of all, the price of admission can be a huge deterrent, especially if you decide to see a movie in Real D 3D, which tacks on an additional fee. The chairs are uncomfortable, it’s noisy if the crowds are large, distracting with people constantly getting up and walking in front of the screen. There’s no pause, fast forward, or rewind controls.
As television technology has evolved, so have our TV watching habits. The unbridled access brought about by DVRs, home video releases, and commercial-free programming on Netflix has allowed us to binge-watch shows rather than have to wait for a new episode each week. Netflix releases entire seasons of their original programming all at once, allowing viewers to watch shows at their own leisure. I don’t even bother subscribing to premium cable channel HBO because I know I won’t be able to wait a whole week for the next episode of Game of Thrones, so I wait to buy the entire season on Blu-ray. This instant access may affect how network shows are traditionally shown each week, as Netflix continues to expand its original programming.
What I think many people find appealing about TV over movies is the pacing and length. A movie is typically a one shot deal: three acts, 90-120 minutes, and maybe a sequel. The length of one episode of a sitcom is around 22 minutes; an hour drama ranges from 44-60 minutes long. Watching one episode of a show takes less time than watching one movie, but if the show is really good and becomes addicting (House of Cards, for example), it can take even more time out of your daily life. If I start a movie, I have to finish it either immediately or within a few hours; I can never leave a movie half-finished unless it’s an epic of three hours or more. I know not everyone feels this way, but a movie is designed to be watched in one sitting, whereas a TV show works either way. You can marathon a season or a few seasons, or you can pace yourself and watch an episode at a time.
Many A-list Hollywood actors have strayed away from large film productions and tended toward television shows, which brings me back to House of Cards. Kevin Spacey presented at this year’s Academy Awards and spoke in the voice of his character, Frank Underwood. Most viewers understood the reference because so many people are subscribed to Netflix, but had the show been on Netflix a few years earlier, the reference likely would have went over many people’s heads.
Television has had a recent resurgence of top notch programs, with huge hits like AMC’s Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, HBO’s Game of Thrones and True Blood, as well as Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and revival season of Arrested Development. With so many viewers desiring exciting new shows, TV networks are able to deliver bigger and bolder programming. Game of Thrones is an immensely popular show, with a level of quality typical of a Hollywood blockbuster. Other film stars who have returned to TV include James Spader on The Blacklist, Kevin Bacon on The Following, and Robin Williams on The Crazy Ones.
Another form of entertainment that has seen a vast change in the past two decades is video games. It wasn’t long ago that the graphics on Nintendo 64 seemed revolutionary because the games were three dimensional. Now, with Playstation, Xbox, and PCs dominating the gaming market, it’s expected that graphics are in high definition and at least close to photorealistic. As games take on more intricate storytelling elements infused with game play (such as last year’s Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us), perhaps we will see fully interactive film-video game hybrid, where viewers/players decide the outcome of the story by taking control of the characters, portrayed by famous actors via motion capture. Film stars have already begun appearing in video games as characters, such as Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in the Playstation 3 game Beyond: Two Souls.
I can’t be certain about what the future holds in store as far as entertainment goes but it seems the recent leaps in technology, trends toward television over theatres, and Hollywood preference for fast-tracking guaranteed box office successes will all influence how we experience movies, television, and other forms of entertainment in the years ahead.