TV: The next generation

What hope is there for films in the increasingly TV-centric world of streaming video?

Television is the new movie. Or rather: TV shows are the new media entertainment of choice when it comes to streaming video. Recent figures from survey-meister GfK show that content created for broadcast TV enjoys up to four times as many downloads as cinematic movies. In fact, GfK in the United States suggests that, across the subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) market, TV series account for 81 per cent of downloaded content against just 19 per cent for films.

I find this predilection for TV series rather alarming. Market forces dictate content, so as we move from linear broadcast viewing to a VOD-centric model, content producers, directors, writers and investors will be ever more focused on TV series-style programming rather than movies. After all, TV series can engage the audience over a longer period, have multi-season revenues and the odd duff episode can be buried. Not so a movie that stands or falls on its first-week reviews. Where would you invest your money?

Add to this the fact that VOD is growing rapidly while cinema-going has been static for a while. UK cinemas see between 150million and 170million bums on seats each year and that hasn’t changed for nearly a decade. On the other hand, 25million episodes from Downton Abbey’s third series were downloaded in the US in just seven weeks.

I therefore worry that the self-contained story experience that is a movie may be on the wane. At the same time, I have been captivated by a few series myself, including the likes of Homeland, Mad Men and the late, lamented Star Trek: Enterprise. Sadly Captain John Archer (no, not our TV reviewer) and the ...Enterprise plot were somewhat too subtle and clever for the US TV networks, and it was canned in 2005. I suspect that had it launched now, in our growing VOD-centric entertainment world to a more sophisticated audience, rather than in 2001, its longevity would have been much, much greater.

In fact many of today’s TV series have just as good effects, actors and budgets as Hollywood’s finest movies and they create something of a saga of familiar characters across each season. So in essence we are getting a series of great, short, movies where you are already familiar with the scenario and key characters at the beginning of each episode. This allows the plot to unwind and you can build greater empathy with the characters than is possible with a simple 120-  or 150-minute a movie.

This is okay if that is what you want. But do you? The art of a good film is in encapsulating the world and its characters, the storyline and the tension, the excitement and the climax, in a single body of work for immediate and complete digestion. It does not allow for a sloppy plot, poor acting or less-than-believable dialogue – traps into which even the best TV series sometimes fall. Lost’s shaggy dog story went on for ever, and many episodes were thin and pointless. Most episodes, thinking about it. Yet that has not stopped it from regularly appearing in the top 20 of SVOD downloads in the US. How many first-class movies could have been made with Lost’s total six-year budget, I wonder?

For me, movies remain where my heart is and a night in with Star Trek: Into Darkness wins hands down over any TV series – particularly if I can wear my yellow Star Fleet tunic and get the wife to dress as an Orion Slave Girl. But am I in a minority?

Are you watching more TV programmes than ever before? 
Let us know: email [email protected]