Sunday, March 27, 2022

Streaming: the death of movies?

I guess that by posting tonight, I'm competing with the Academy Awards. So I might as well talk about the thing everybody's going to be talking about anyway. No, not Will Smith smacking Chris Rock for dissing his wife. I mean movies in general.

A Facebook friend posted earlier today that he hadn't seen any of this year's ten Best Picture nominees because he has trouble hearing these days, so he waits for them to come to the small screen. I couldn't help but wonder where he's been. I've seen six of them -- and I saw them all via one streaming service or another. 

SergeyNivens | Deposit Photos
One thing the pandemic has made easier is seeing first-run movies without having to leave home. At least one of the big film studios decided, while everything was shut down, to release their movies via streaming in lieu of opening in theaters. Then movies were released simultaneously to theaters and a streaming service, a practice that seems to be hanging on. I'm sure the theaters would like the studios to walk that back, now that folks can get out and see a movie again; it hurts their bottom line when moviegoers stay home. But I think it's going to be tough to put that djinn back in the bottle, especially now that a movie produced by a streaming service -- "CODA", produced by Apple TV -- has won the Academy Award for Best Picture (beating out "The Power of the Dog", which I was rooting for, but I digress).

Writing in the New York Times earlier this week, Ross Douthat claimed that the Oscars are losing relevance because the movies they're meant to honor are slowly disappearing: "The ideal Oscar nominee is a high-middlebrow movie, aspiring to real artistry and sometimes achieving it, that’s made to be watched on the big screen, with famous stars, vivid cinematography and a memorable score. It’s neither a difficult film for the art-house crowd nor a comic-book blockbuster but a film for the largest possible audience of serious adults..." His emphasis is on the big screen experience. He laments that almost nobody went to see the nominees in theaters this year; "Spider Man: No Way Home" (which, by the way, I also saw via streaming) has earned four times the U.S. box-office take of all ten nominees combined.

Douthat goes on to suggest, among other things, that fans of Seeing Serious Cinema at the Cinema recognize that the art form needs their patronage, in the same way that fans of opera and ballet support those arts -- that is, classic movies should be shown in theaters more often, and students should be encouraged to study classic films the same way they study classic literature (never mind that they already do; "film studies" classes have been around for at least a couple of decades).

I think maybe Douthat is missing the point. The biggest reason people stopped going to the movies -- aside from the pandemic -- is that the experience has gone downhill. A moviegoer shells out big money for the ticket and bigger money for a snack, and is then surrounded by others who might chat through the show. And if your million-ounce soda goes through your system too fast, you can't hit the pause button while you go to the restroom. And then there's the lack of closed-captioning mentioned by my Facebook friend. Operas have gone to seat-back closed captions; if movie theaters want to lure older adults back, maybe they should do the same.

Or maybe we should just bow to the inevitable. I used to love going to the movies. When my kids were in high school, we had a tradition of attending midnight openings for movies like "Lord of the Rings" and the Harry Potter flicks. (The rule was they had to go to school the next day.) But ticket prices are in the stratosphere now, and the big screen experience truly isn't that much more engaging than watching a film at home.

Then again, I'm reminded that radio was supposed to be dead long since; way back in the '50s, TV was going to kill it off, or so everybody said. And yet radio, in one form or another, has stayed with us. I expect the movie business, too, will be with us for many years to come.


I'm taking another break next weekend. See you back here Sunday, April 10th.


These moments of cinematic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!


Unknown said...

Are we sure radio isn't dead?

I theorize that it might be like the dinosaur shot in the head. It's dead all right, but it's still walking around like it has good sense, because it's brain is the size of a pea.

That's my Ted Talk on the state of radio in 2022.

I'm probably not the right person to speak on this, though. I haven't listened to a regular, terrestrial-based radio station in more than six years. I think that aside from maybe catching a baseball game in the car, I never will again.

We've had our new car for a year and I have only bothered to set the preset buttons for Sirius XM.

Lynne Cantwell said...

It's interesting that you mention Sirius XM, because I had it in mind when I wrote this. I haven't been a subscriber for as long as you have -- only since I bought Eli in 2019 -- but my car radio has only deviated by accident from satellite radio since then.

You and I are both latecomers to satellite radio. When I worked for WTOP-AM in DC, one of our part-time anchors talked about maybe getting involved with XM Radio, which he was sure was the Next Big Thing. That would have been in 1995 or so. Wikipedia tells me that XM merged with Sirius in 2008.

I have a lot of feelings about terrestrial radio. :D I'll mention this: Many years ago, driving in the Chicago area in my old car, I tuned across the AM band and found a Spanish-language station that seemed to be running a top-40 sort of format. The jocks were obviously doing a lot more than reading liner notes, and even though I could only understand every third or fourth word (my Spanish is pretty rusty), it was clear they -- and their listeners who called in -- were having a ball. That's the model that terrestrial radio ought to get back to, before they lose their listeners entirely.

Unknown said...

Yes, but with the FCC allowing so few corporations to own so many stations, I think that's unlikely.

Homogenous ownership leads to homogenous content.

But, I share the same wish. In 1979, when I was in broadcast school, I was really poor. Scrambling to pay the very cheap rent every month kind of poor, let alone eat.

I didn't have a TV, and I didn't miss it at all, because in my room and in my car, I had a radio. The lineups were so great and entertaining that I made it a point to be near my radio at specific times of day. Even the promotions were more enticing then.

I can't imagine someone ever making a point to tune in at a specific time these days.

And I'm greatly disappointed in Sirius XM. With all the music in the world to pull from, they have a miniscule playlist as tight as any corporate-owned station.

Sometimes I think that if I hear one more Carly Simon, James Taylor, or Carol King song on the seventies on seven, I'll snap.

I don't, of course, I just plug in a podcast or audiobook instead.

Lynne Cantwell said...

I can't argue with anything you've said. There are a few songs in the current 70s on 7 playlist that I would have been thrilled to never hear again. ("*This* thing again?" *punches over to Classic Vinyl*)

I take heart (see what I did there? ;) ) that iHeart Media has spun off its outdoor billboard business and is apparently ready to concentrate on its radio-ish business. It's still a huge corporation, but maybe its mission is clearer now. Maybe. Time will tell, I guess.

Like you, I'm sad for the days when over-the-air radio was actually entertaining. And it sucks that I'm locked into paying (especially as an allegedly retired person) for a streaming service with content that I used to be able to get for free.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Okay, one more thing: About tuning in at a specific time to hear a specific thing. This still happens at stations like WTOP that run news and weather at regular clock times and promote the hell out of them ("traffic and weather on the 8s!").

But y'know, TV used to be like that, too. If you wanted to watch the new episode of X show, you had to tune in at 7pm on Mondays or whatever. Now you can record it. Or stick to streaming and watch the new episode on the day it drops at whatever time suits you -- or on whatever day in the future it suits you.

That was part of the charm of first-run movies, too. Those midnight showings I used to take my kids to? It was partly for bragging rights.

Opening night at the movies, TV episodes that ran at the same time everywhere and not again until (maybe) reruns, contests on the radio, Larry Lujack's "Animal Stories" -- those were cultural touchstones, and today they're pretty much gone. Maybe that's contributed to the cultural divide in America as surely as Fox News.