Features and Columns

Talking Heads: Will We Own Every Movie Thanks to Streaming and On-Demand?

By  · Published on March 11th, 2011

Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as MichaelBayFan2938 and Sharktopus11 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.

Not every movie is on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime, but we’re heading down a path that could change the way we watch and own movies. As Robert Lloyd points out at the LA Times, we’ve already got a shifting library of movies at our fingertips, and that might alter our viewing habits.

We don’t have to drive to the rental store anymore (for the most part), but we also don’t have to toss down money every single time we make a decision to watch a movie. We can watch as much as we want. Isn’t that a good thing? Check out what we had to say and let us know what you think.

Cole: So we now have more art than we know what to do with.

Landon: I’ve been looking for someone to take all these Rothkos off my hands.

Cole: American abstract expressionists aside, you or I could basically watch just about whatever we wanted to right now be it movie or television show.

Namely, we’ve got Netflix and Hulu Plus and television and On-Demand and Amazon Prime.

Doesn’t that frighten the Hell out of you and excite you all at the same time?

Landon: When I’m watching Carlos legally on my computer well before it even has a DVD release date, it’s certainly more the latter than the former.

Cole: You mean that Mencia guy?

Landon: Yes, it’s the sequel to Sex with Mencia.

Cole: Julio Medem knocked that one out of the park.

Landon: I’m not always sure it’s a good thing. not necessarily a bad thing either, but I certainly don’t watch movies the same way as I did in the ancient days of Blockbuster.

Cole: Exactly. The biggest difference is that you now own a giant library of movies by virtue of paying a monthly fee.

And I mean “own” even if that doesn’t match up with our traditional model. If we have instant access to it any time we want, it’s as good as owned.

Here’s the quesiton, though: Do you ever find yourself suffering from the burden of choice?

Landon: In some ways it’s not so different. I remember writing down lists of movies I needed to see. Managing a queue is simply a more productive way of coordinating my video store run.

But then again, no video store could have this overwhelming variety.

Cole: But you can’t deny that the massive library in front of you brings great responsibility.

Landon: Because of its great power?

Cole: I have honestly sat down a few times (not a lot, but a few) meaning to watch something I’d never seen before only to end up watching an episode of Arrested Development for the 5th time.

Landon: Don’t die on me, Cole!

Cole: It is interesting that we still love Netflix even after it killed Uncle Ben.

So you don’t see this as too much of a good thing?

Landon: I think the best way to describe it is an embarrassment of riches.

My viewing habits have certainly changed, and as a cinephile it seems with each technological shift in viewing the experience feels less sacred. Lack of accessibility does make things feel more special.

Cole: How have your habits changed?

Landon: There’s the monthly fee, for one. Having a disc sitting at home or having a growing instant queue compels me to watch movies out of obligation where I used to only seek out a certain movie specifically when I wanted to see it. It sometimes feels like a game of knocking things off my queue to get to the next one instead of “experiencing” the movie through and through.

Cole: I can relate to that. I can also relate to the opposite – letting The Wiz sit on my shelf for 2 weeks before begrudgingly mailing it back without watching it.

You want to give it a chance because it was next in line, but if you’re not in the mood for Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, you’re not in the mood for it.

Landon: Did you get return to oz instead?

Cole: No, way. The Wheelers still freak me out.

You’ve made me realize something I’ve never hit upon before. I used to think the reverence was silly. I mean, I don’t miss CD jewel cases or anything, so why miss a DVD case? But the real reverence is in truly wanting to see and experience a movie. A bit of that seems lost (or like we’ll need to find it again in this new movie-watching environment).

Landon: That’s a good point. and I’m not sure it’s even specific to the material quality of it, but the experience that previous technologies (or lack of technology) demand from viewing.

Let me explain.

Cole: Explain!

Landon: Take Scorsese for instance. The guy became a walking movie encyclopedia not because he had access to digital streaming or even home video, but because he sought out every repertory screening he could. He had to pay attention to each movie in a dark movie theater and watch it with an audience.

His viewing habits were determined for him, but part of that is why he’s so fond of his learning phase.

Cole: He was the library. Now we have our libraries outside of us.

You’re afraid that the next generations of filmmakers won’t intimately know as many great movies?

Landon: I don’t know, but I do feel like I’ve had that experience more rarely watching films on my computer. But part of me also isn’t a fan of the computer screen itself. It’s not like a TV or movie screen, it’s many screens within a screen. I’m not used to only seeing one image on it, and I’m more easily distracted.

This might be petty nostalgia or my ADD, but the reverential experience isn’t so much gone as it is simply more rare.

Cole: Well, I see an argument for saying that having our movie knowledge stored on the internet doesn’t do us any favors. I could have wikipedia-ed that Sex and Lucia joke earlier, but I wouldn’t be able to do that on the spot at a dinner party.

Until the Singularity comes and we’re all plugged into the net.

Then robots will be making films anyway.

Can you imagine a world where movies aren’t physically sold anymore? Where there’s no need for a home movie player? I can understand why studios and other entities are afraid to play nice with Netflix.

Landon: Then again, part of it feels similar to the book vs. e-book debate, where with e-books you lose the materiality of the page, the ability to leave marginalia, etc. But like with the book, I don’t think one will replace the other as much as it simply provides another option. Blu-rays, for instance, seem to be a growing market.

Cole: Until someone can pay less and have all those movies available at the click of a button.

Come on. There’s no way Blu-ray or whatever comes after Blu-ray survives this, unless Netflix and others continue hovering at 50% streaming.

Once new releases are hitting Netflix streaming even a week after the physical disc goes on sale, that market is toast. It will be a major paradigm shift.

Landon: I see your point. Movies have never been distributed in one singular way. We lived in a time before DVD, and will likely live in a time after. It’s odd thinking what a relatively short life span VHS had in movie history.

Cole: There’s hope still. I still listen to and collect vinyl. As long as the technology exists and there’s a mild monetary incentive – filmmakers of the future could be doing what indie musicians are doing today: using the old to stay alive.

It could be a new underground. We could go back to hearing about a DVD copy of an incredible, must-see, totally insane indie from a cousin who knows a guy who knows a guy.

Landon: And while home video might change, the theatrical experience is still there, and it still has the potential magic that no home video can. In fact, it might be even more valuable in the era of streaming media.

Now if I can only get myself to not play Angry Birds while I watch Bela Tarr on my iPad.

Cole: Very funny. You can’t stay awake to do anything during a Bela Tarr movie.

At any rate, this is a brave new world we’re entering into.

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