The Netflix Convenience trap

Another day, another Netflix Original. Really its getting a little crazy how these films are dropping onto the service now. I was thinking that its a glimpse of the future but I guess that future is here now and cannot imagine how much of a seismic shift this is proving to be in the corridors of power in studios over in Hollywood. Of course there is a market for big studio blockbusters and the big-screen experience but it does make me wonder what it means for other kinds of movies now. Is it simply reinforcing the troubling tradition of idiotic/simplistic bombastic spectacles at the multiplex , and relegating interesting and challenging dramas to streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon? Throw HBO dramas into that mix and its either an exciting or scary time for movie lovers. I’m not certain where I am on the subject but do think its troubling, particularly for people like me who still enjoy buying films on physical media and experiencing commentary tracks and other material supplementary to the main course of the film/show itself.

There was a news item last week that claimed that Netflix constitutes 15% of total global net traffic- adding traffic from You Tube and embedded material on websites, video amounts to over half of total net traffic. With the rise of 4K the demand for bandwidth can only get higher- and what of the impact of Disney’s own streaming service touted for next year and its eventual rise to global domination? I suppose one question that arises, is can the infrastructure from broadband providers cope with and prove reliable under all that demand? Will the public continue to be willing to shell out for multiple avenue streams or will things start to go bump for someone, somewhere in the cable/satellite network business?

What does it mean for cinema attendances with all these movies, good and bad and indifferent,  admittedly, dropping onto ever-bigger televisions as if by magic and leaving lazy audiences increasingly reticent regards making the effort to go to the multiplex? How many people didn’t bother to go see BR2049 at the cinema simply because they thought they’d wait for it to drop onto their television? The unfortunate truth is no film company is going to spend $185 million on making a movie if its just going to end up on streaming services as that avenue stream simply isn’t cost-effective.

In a way, I’m getting guilty of just the same thing now, as very often I’ll reason that if I’m likely to buy the film on UHD disc anyhow, I may as well save the expense of buying a cinema ticket and just wait for the disc. I’d also argue the viewing experience on a 4K UHD at home is superior to the experience of watching a film with a bunch of morons who can’t avoid their mobiles for longer than ten-minute intervals anyway, but that’s a whole other subject. Or maybe it isn’t.  Going to the cinema is a bit of a crapshoot, and has been for awhile. Its also getting rather expensive, too.

So that brings us back to the convenience of Netflix and how our access to and consumption of media continues to rapidly change. Its like the VHS revolution all over again in some ways. The rise and fall of Blockbuster Video might be a cautionary one for current content providers though.


5 thoughts on “The Netflix Convenience trap

  1. Tom

    This is a great piece, much food for thought.

    I’ll tell ya one little thing that is entirely unique to the cinema experience, and its rather intangible. The quality of my local screen’s projectors are fucking dire. I mean, we are often sitting in movies where the picture seems half as luminous (or even worse). When I saw Foxcatcher, a movie that was already shot in drab color, it was very difficult to see certain things. So that plays into Netflix/Other streaming services’ favor because you have a) probably a decent home theater set-up and b) aren’t dealing with crowds and excessive distraction.

    I don’t know. It is all a bit weird because when it comes to these Netflix originals, many of the releases feel like pseudo-movies. Like they feel unfinished in some way, or rushed. You get that a lot in theatrical releases of course, but without having to spend gas money I guess I’ll take a mediocre movie from the comforts of my couch when I can have a beer or several to make it more enjoyable.

  2. Ian Smith

    I saw First Man yesterday, after paying near £20 for two tickets, my wife and I had to sit through a full half-hour of ads and a few trailers and then an additional for how great the cinema experience is (!) All before the film eventually started.

    I said to my wife, we want to watch a film on Netflix, we just press play and away it goes, and it costs less. And yeah, HD or 4k on Netflix looks better than a blurry dim cinema screen.

  3. Matthew McKinnon

    It doesn’t seem that odd a situation to me.

    I know it’s easy to say this with the benefit of hindsight, but the studios should have seen this coming. With the internet completely changing the music industry, it was only a matter of time and bandwidth before the same thing happened to movies.

    And the situation we’re in now is only a logical follow-through from where home video has been going for decades. Even 18 years ago, my old boss would buy movies he wanted to see on laserdisc [and then DVD] on import because it was significantly cheaper than paying for a babysitter + tickets + transport + drinks for a trip to the cinema. Home video made that possible from the mid-80s onwards.

    I also think people have been in denial about the pleasure of watching a film at home vs. in a cinema for decades. I’ll often go and see movie in the daytime if I’m not working, just out of habit. It’s what I used to do as a film student, so it’s in my blood. But to be honest, it’s often a chore: even without factoring in the cinema or the audience [often bad, in many instances], the film itself can often be easier to appreciate at home. I recently saw Raw, It Comes At Night and – yesterday – First Man in the cinema and I didn’t really like them or appreciate them that much. I’m pretty sure on my own sofa in the comfort of my own house with a less strained form of engagement with the screen, I would have gotten about 25-30% more enjoyment out of them – just through being in a pleasant environment.

    I think most people have felt that way for a long time, and it’s pointless trying to fight it. Like most mythical Golden Ages, when was there a Golden Age of cinema-going in our lifetime? I’m nostalgic for the old cinemas I saw movies in as a kid, but they were old and decaying and a bit grotty. And no-one went to them so they closed. And this is back in the 1980s.

    I’ll go and see a few big spectaculars a year in 3D Laser IMAX because it’s how those films were meant to be seen [even Blade Runner 2049*, which was exceptional in the format: the subtle 3D on the extreme close-ups where you were seeing variations of depth on a single object or face – amazing], but the audiences are uniformly terrible. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before in a different comment: when we went to see Infinity Wars, there’s a quiet scene towards the end where things have gone bad; I looked around and most of the cinema are rapt, silent. Except this Chinese guy next to me -who’d turned up five minutes into the film itself laden with shopping bags from Oxford Street – who’s scrolling through his text messages. And then a little later in the film where things get VERY dark, I can hear this faint voice yammering away: I look across and he’s listening to a fucking voicemail. Harsh words were exchanged.

    And of course that links up to the shrinking windows for theatrical and home release. When more people want to watch something at home than in a cinema, why wait 6 months to give it to them?
    And with screens getting bigger and home video approaching the point where the quality is the same as theatrical projection as you say, that’s not going to change.

    In terms of things moving over to streaming rather than physical media: I share a little of your anxiety, but not all of it. Here in the UK, we have a long history of being shafted in terms of releases/version/extras, so there’s that! I’m used to having to buy US copies of things that just don’t make it over here. But I think – for the short term, at least – studios will be happy that their 4K remasters of catalogue titles will be the last they’ll ever have to do, as anything bigger would be pointless. So they’ll be looking to maximize profits on those by putting out 4K discs for people like us. Yay – next year we’ll be looking at Alien and Star Trek 4K discs, mark my words.

    Netflix and Amazon Originals don’t seem that weird, because I remember when the BBC and ITV and Channel 4 used to make feature length TV plays and movies. And when US channels did the same [Duel, anyone?]. It’s nice to have the smaller-scale ‘TV movie’ back. It’s a fertile ground for smaller talent.

    It seems like a glass half-full to me, overall.

    *I don’t know what Alcon though they were doing when the sank $180 into that movie. There was no way on Earth it was going to be a hit. I think they though ‘recognisable brand + big tentpole release = money’. I mean, I’m glad they did and that we have the film. But it wasn’t a decision I would ever have made.

    1. I think that’s my main concern regards Netflix and the future, inevitable as it is- rare as they are, films like BR2049 don’t really fit in anywhere. It’s too adult/long/slow/complex for a usual blockbuster budget, and too expensive even for the most insane Netflix executive with even the deepest pockets. Part of the magic of BR2049 is that it looks and feels so impossible, its gorgeous and huge with massive sets and gorgeous lighting and yet its still this weird arthouse thing like the original was, maybe even more so. Was it the last huge intelligent sci-fi movie? Or, playing devils advocate here, did it really need to be that big?

      I would dearly love to hear about Alcon and Netflix getting together for a Blade Runner spin-off series or smaller-scale movie. Looking at how odd and flawed some of these Netflix Originals are, it is at least at present a place for creatives to make odd, leftfield and daring movies. Imagine a small character piece that followed on from BR2049 and revealed what happened next for Deckard and his daughter. Would Wallace have redoubled his efforts to hunt down his target? Would the rogue replicants have started an uprising? The door seems closed on a big-screen continuation but maybe there are other avenues these days. Not that we really need one, but I said that about a Blade Runner sequel and they proved me wrong, so I’m open to anything now.

  4. There’s definitely a self-fulfilling prophecy going on with what’s a success at the cinema / what’s a success on TV nowadays — you see people time and again saying they look to TV for intelligent entertainment, but still go the cinema for the big bombastic spectacle, because you’ve got to see it on the big screen… which of course makes that more financially successful, and so the movie studios focus more on that, continuing to push people who make other stuff to the small screen… Maybe it’s just the way things are naturally going to end up going. I know it’s depressing for people who want to watch anything and everything on the big screen, but for most of us, so long as the good-quality material is still getting made somewhere, does it matter? Of course, as you mention, that model renders films like BR2049 increasingly unlikely, and that would be a Bad Thing.

    Cinemas themselves are partly too blame too. I read anecdotally of a multiplex manager who regarded their venue as an eatery with 12 empty rooms off it that existed to get punters through the door. Okay, the concessions are where they make a profit, but I’m pretty sure no one is paying £10 for a cinema ticket just so they can also eat a crappy reheated hotdog! But that’s what leads to neglect of the projection quality, and that’s what’s going to drive more and more people to home viewing. I mean, DVD was good enough that people saw it as a viable alternative to the big screen experience, so with 4K being better than most big screens…

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