Our entertainment is now consumed online. This has had profound consequences on the type of entertainment being consumed and has lead to, in my opinion, the death of cinema.
Entertainment is now mainly consumed online
The cinematic landscape has radically changed since 2000. Just ask yourself, when was the last time you went to the cinema to see a film? I went to the movies a few times this year, only to find myself sitting alone in an empty room. So, where are people seeing films these days? Filmfestivals? Festivals are mostly for film industry folk. TV? Reality shows, news and telenovelas. Which leaves us with online platforms: mainly Netflix and torrent downloads. Let’s face it: our entertainment is now consumed online. And this has had profound consequences on the type of entertainment being consumed. It has also, in my opinion, lead to the death of cinema.
Culture, art and entertainment are levelled out to the lowest common denominator
Entertainment is now being consumed online. But here’s the thing. Picture someone getting home after a long day at work. He flips on his computer and is presented with the following choice for evening entertainment: perusing social media, chatting on messenger, scanning porn (37% of internet content), binge-watching an HBO/Netflix series, or diving into an art and essai film in a foreign language with unknown actors. What do you think this person will go for? If everything on internet is only a click away, culture, art and entertainment are levelled out to the lowest common denominator. Does an award-winning Bulgarian film stand a chance against porn or Breaking Bad? I don’t think so.
Once content can be streamed online, nobody will pay for it
It is said that the film industry follows the same path as the music industry, with a slight latency. Music has migrated from physical CDs to online streaming platforms. The same happened with films. DVDs are becoming obsolete. Once content can be streamed online, nobody will pay for the physical support. So how do artists get remunerated for their work? In music, they can rely on live performances. But with a film, once it’s downloaded, streamed and viewed, there’s no live performance that the filmmaker can rely on. So, what’s left to finance indie films? Crowdfunding? Instead of having one producer giving his opinion, you have one million people “co-financing” and acting as “co-producers”? No fucking thank you.
The 3 rules for international audiences
Back when I was touring with Tombville in 2014, a distributor told me that a film needed 3 things in order to access international distribution: the film needed to be in English, fit into a traditional genre and have a Hollywood star in a leading role. Without those ingredients, a film is just a drop in the ocean. Internet not having any borders, you’re theoretically always addressing an international audience – the “world wide web” -, so the same rules apply online. Earlier this year, I was on a flight from Brussels to NYC, the passengers were given a selection of films and series to pick from on their screens. The categories were the following : comedy, action, horror, thriller, Marvel, sci fi, historical, independent, Academy Awards, kids, adventure, Netflix, HBO, standup comedy, and, at the bottom of the list, “European films”. Do I need to tell you what people were watching?
Feature films have a become obsolete
We don’t watch films anymore. We only watch series. I would even argue that the format of feature films, 90 minutes, has become obsolete. Why is that? It all comes down to a time factor. Time has become a luxury that most people can’t afford anymore, for a number of reasons. Combine that with the fact that our attention span has been brought down to 140-character tweets. Also, feature films have a serious disadvantage compared to series. It takes more or less 20 minutes to set up the plot and characters and get the audience interested. In a film, this leaves you with a an hour of action, after which the film is over. But series, on the other had, are based on repetition and can keep on milking that same set up episode after episode, season after season. That’s why binge-watching has become so popular.
Hollywood series have made it impossible to compete
Should filmmakers start making series? Back in the days of feature films, there was still room for independent and international productions. Low-budget (or no budget) films could still hope to reach a small audience under certain conditions. But series have changed the game. Producing a feature film means creating one hour of entertainment. Producing a season means producing 10 hours of entertainment. This has repercussions on every level of production and makes it almost impossible to compete with HBO or Netflix series. Not only do these studios have the best screenwriting teams in the world, they also have the Hollywood actors and the budgets to carry out lofty visions season after season. Oh, I almost forgot. They also own the distribution networks, by the way.
Globalisation, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have imposed English as the world’s lingua franca and Anglo-Saxon culture as mainstream, the switch from feature films to series, the fact that we now consume entertainment on smartphones and computer screens, all of these factors have radically changed the game and lead to, what I call, the death of cinema in 2017. Yes, there will still be theatres in 2017, but only for Hollywood blockbusters. The good news is that new forms are emerging. Alternative online platforms for independent art and challenging content will come to exist. But the question is, will there be anyone to watch them? Will people be ready to put Tweeting, Facebooking, and porn aside to watch a foreign film that might challenge their expectations and habits? I wouldn’t count on it.