Binging on Netflix on a rainy Saturday morning seems like a good way to relax.
I’m slowly going through my growing “Watch Later” list on YouTube. I finally watched Kevin Spacey’s speech at the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture in 2013 and it is well worth watching.
Kevin Spacey is one of my favourite actors and has been since The Usual Suspects. He spoke to the audience at the Edinburgh Television Festival about the overwhelming importance of creative professionals in the entertainment industry and about giving TV audiences what they want.
Give audiences what they want, how they want it
He highlighted a theme that has seemed so sensible to me for years and that seems to escape entertainment industry executives. This theme applies equally to music as it does to TV and movies:
The warp-speed of technological advancement – the Internet, streaming, multi-platforming – happens to have coincided with the recognition of TV as an art form. So you have this incredible confluence of a medium coming into its own JUST AS the technology for that medium is drastically shifting. Studios and networks who ignore either shift – whether the increasing sophistication of story telling, or the constantly shifting sands of technological advancement – will be left behind. And if they fail to hear these warnings, audiences will evolve faster than they will. They will seek the stories and content-providers who give them what they demand – complex, smart stories available whenever they want, on whatever device they want, wherever they want. Netflix and other similar services have succeeded because they have married good content with a forward-thinking approach to viewing habits and appetites.
While we are accustomed to distinctions between movies, TV and online video, these distinctions are largely irrelevant to younger generations. Our kids certainly don’t see much of a distinction between TV series they watch on Netflix and the channels they watch on YouTube.
Movies are distinctive primarily because watching big ticket items involves a trip to the local movie theatre and having that big screen experience. At the same time, we have a pretty decent HD TV and surround sound at home and we routinely watch movies on weekend afternoons with our kids there too.
The distinctions between formats and devices are blurring all the time:
If you are watching a film on your television, is it no longer a film because you’re not watching it in the theater? If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant. The labels are useless – except perhaps to agents and managers and lawyers who use these labels to conduct business deals. For kids growing up now there’s no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game of Thrones on their computer. It’s all CONTENT. It’s all STORY.
While I understand that regional broadcasters have deals with studios and publishers that probably block global distribution of movies and TV series, this approach to distribution doesn’t serve audiences. It only benefits the broadcasters who lack the will and imagination they need to take advantage of new opportunities.
The sooner entertainment industry executives come to terms with the fact that audiences want those stories on their terms, the sooner the market as a whole will benefit. Again, as Spacey pointed out:
And the audience has spoken: they want stories. They’re dying for them. They are rooting for us to give them the right thing. And they will talk about it, binge on it, carry it with them on the bus and to the hairdresser, force it on their friends, tweet, blog, Facebook, make fan pages, silly Jifs (sic) and god knows what else about it, engage with it with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie could only dream of. All we have to do is give it to them. The prize fruit is right there. Shinier and juicier than it has ever been before. So it will be all the more shame on each and every one of us if we don’t reach out and seize it.
You can read Kevin Spacey’s full speech here.
Netflix wants to take on movie distributors and theaters
Netflix’s Reed Hastings recently spoke at recode’s 2017 Code Conference.
One of the tidbits that emerged from his interview is the possibility that Netflix is doing to do for movies what it did for TV. What could well happen if Netflix’s approach gains traction is that those trips to a movie theatre to watch a new movie may become less prevalent.
Just as Netflix releases its own movies directly to audiences through Netflix streaming, we could start seeing other major movies being released to streaming long before they are currently.
There is still a lot to be said for the big screen experience, for sure. At the same time, that may be a generational thing and our home theatre experiences may be happy substitutes.
Whether it is TV, movies or music, industry executives are fighting losing battles. Audiences want this content on their terms and if the industry doesn’t come to the party, people will find ways around their limitations.
This may mean people downloading the stuff they want instead of paying for it or simply opting out of more mainstream content.
The industry isn’t going to shrivel up and die anytime soon but imagine what the industry could achieve if it thought differently?
Image credit: Jake Hills