Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In what direction is our entertainment evolving?

I find myself wondering in which direction entertainment is evolving. Except for the talent shows, my family does not indulge in much reality TV. We prefer things like Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Supernatural, and other series. But, we also enjoy movies.

The Problem With Movies at the Theater

The problem we have with movies is that we are a family of five. Therefore, when we go out to the movies, it has to be one we are unanimously dying to see in order to spend $50 on tickets and another $40 on snacks. Economically, going to the theater kills the budget. We have to be very selective about what we watch on first run.

Where We Watch Movies

To overcome the expense problem, our family watches movies at discount theaters, which were once known as Dollar Cinemas. If we wait a couple months, we can watch movies at the theater for a fraction of the cost. We do this mostly in the summer months to get out of the heat during the daytime. 

We also watch movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime. These subscription services provide us with a large enough selection of older movies. Our children have not seen many of the movies available simply because they weren't born when they were released. So, that keeps them busy when they aren't watching kids shows.

Movie Rentals and Purchases

My family does not typically buy movies. We did in the past. However, storage becomes a problem. With the ease in which you can rent movies at Redbox or online, that has taken over our purchases. It is of little value to buy a digital copy of a movie when we know that it will be available on Netflix or Amazon Prime as part of the subscription in the future. Therefore, if we are anxious to watch, we simply rent the movie.

Not Just Movies

But, ordering online does not just apply to movies. We are also willing to buy an episode or a season of a show we enjoy. If the season is more than $20, we don't typically buy it. We prefer to buy episodes over several weeks. In this sense, movies and television episodes are of equal value in our household. If we are willing to pay, it's going to be good. 

I think what is key for us is that we don't always have to wait for videos to be added to subscription services. We can rent an episode within few days of airing rather than have to wait for reruns. I completely forgot to mention Hulu, which shows episodes soon after the original air date as part of their service.

Where Theaters May Bring Us Back

So, where to theaters fit in to our entertainment? Lately, we have been considering attending shows put on by Fathom Events. We live in a region with limited stage productions. It would be nice to go to a theater to watch professional live performances. I don't foresee it being a take-the-family type of activity. Rather, I think going to see live performances at movie theaters will be more like date night with my wife. 

When I first started writing this blog post, I was trying to compare movie rentals from today and yesteryear; but, the more I thought about it, little has changed. Sure, we no longer rent VHS tapes down at the video store; yet we still rent movies. There was the regular theater and there was also the dollar theater. We didn't have Netflix; but, there was HBO. 

In short, the basic premise has not changed. What is occurring is that our sources are shifting. Movie theaters took away audiences from stage plays. Now home entertainment is taking audiences away from theaters; but, I see theaters as bringing back live performances. 

Sure, you can watch a boxing fight through pay per view at home; but, you could also watch it on a big screen with surround sound. Or watch an opera. Or a concert. Or a comedy show. Rather than have to travel to the nearest metropolitan area to catch a live performance, you could simply drive down to your local theater and catch a performance. 

I don't think movie theaters will be in the decline. Rather, we should rethink what theaters can do. They have high definition, 3D, surround sound, and a generally better viewing experience than you can get at home or a bar.

The Home Television

Having purchased a Chromecast recently, our viewing has changed a little. As previously mentioned, we watch Netflix. But, in addition to that, we are now watching longer Youtube videos. The unofficial rule of web video has been that you don't make videos longer than 5 minutes, lest you lose your audience. I think this is true for smaller screens; but, not necessarily for your TV. 

On a television, you expect to sit down and watch for 30 minutes, an hour, or longer. It's not as tiring to watch longer videos on a television as it is on small screens. There is a certain degree to which you can multitask with a TV in the background. Whereas, on a computer or phone, you start getting antsy as messages come in or you want to type something up. These devices don't lend themselves to being single use items. Within 5 minutes, you are likely to get a call, text message, Facebook notice, or some other update that would take you away from a video. Whereas casting a video to your TV frees you to continue doing other stuff.

What this means is that you can queue up a bunch of Youtube videos in advance. It opens up a broader range of content than highly produced shows. Maybe you do want to watch cat home videos all day. We are no longer talking about web videos; we are moving to web television. 

What Kind of Content?

I think we'll continue to see plenty of free content that people slap together just because they can; and we will see content that is pay as you go. HBO is able to sink millions into creating original content. Netflix is getting into the content game. While these are subscription services, not pay as you go, they still prove the point that people are willing to pay for programming as much as they have been willing to buy movie tickets. 

Coming back to my situation, it isn't that my family does not willing to pay for entertainment, rather, we are not willing to pay so much for that form of entertainment. You can be certain that we watch movies eventually, either through rentals or through subscription. My family, and perhaps our current culture, assigns values to different types of content. 

Experiential Entertainment

There is theater content, rental content, subscription content, and free content. Each of us develops a rating system that determines where we will view our entertainment. The better the content, the higher the premium we'll pay to view it as an experience. I suppose, since the inception of movie rentals, we have had movies that are "straight to video", which refers to box office flops. Those movies may not have been so bad; but, they may not have merited sitting in a theater to watch them. Whereas, other movies demand the full theater experience.

So, perhaps it comes down to experiencing content? What kind of experience do we want a movie, a show, or live stream to be when we watch it?

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