K(no)w Media

knowmediaIt’s difficult to image a world without media.

I oftentimes wonder what retail will be like ten, 15 or even 20 years. Most likely, brick and mortar stores will no longer be able to keep operations–stores like Wal-Mart will move entirely online in an attempt to compete with Amazon, leaving only its warehouses/fulfillment centers in a mass recognition of online retail’s monopoly on any product with a barcode. Walgreens, for example, will cease 99% of its retail sales, converting its stores into drive-up pharmacies. Pet Stores will close. Bookstores? Forget it. Office Depot/Office Max?  Right….

Now this is only a prediction, and a dark Orwellian one at that. The reason I believe I can accurately predict something like this is that I’ve already seen it: remember Blockbuster Video? Yeah, me neither. Bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble?

But this article isn’t about how brick and mortar retail will eventually die and other more convenient stores, such as eateries, clothing stories, and family fun centers will eventually take their place, this is an article about media. Dying.

I saw three movies recently on their respective release dates: Now You See Me 2, that Independence Day  sequel (not very good), and Swiss Army Man. The first two, there were audience members in the single digits. Literally about 10 of us or less. This was the first screening time of the first screening day in the entire city. Swiss Army Man had maybe about 40 in attendance, due to the fact that only one small independent theater in town was showing it (one of those converted movie palaces that were as popular in the 20s, 30s, and 40s as live theatre is in Britain).

So, why go out to see a movie? Is the 3D, amazing surround-sound, even some establishments’ attempt to wait on you during the film not enticing enough to spend $10-$18 per person for a night of entertainment (or at least two hours of it)?

Apparently not really. I had the misfortune of seeing Spring Breakers on Blu-Ray a few nights ago at a friend’s house. This film actually made money. The reason? It only cost $5 million to make. After “raking in” less than $500K domestic, the film made around $30 million in foreign tickets and DVD/Blu-Ray sales, giving a small unnecessary nod to studio executives who actually think these types of films are a good idea–“filler” movies that pad the theaters while we wait for the Blockbusters (not the store, mind you 🙂 ).

So why stay home? The cost of seeing a film now is rapidly coming close to equalling the cost of live theater (except those $300 Broadway seats). Other reasons?

1. There is immediate ability to watch nearly any major film on or before its release day via torrent sites (what are called ‘CAMRips.’)

2. The availability and continuous stream of television and the privacy that comes with it is preferred to going out to pay 1/3 of your monthly cable bill into a movie ticket, or the equivalent of the eventual DVD or Blu-Ray cost. Not to mention that home theater setups have matured significantly over the past decade or so, now offering as high as 9.1 surround systems, curved 3D televisions at sizes that won’t set you back 2 or 3 grand, along with UHD (4 or 5K) coming along nicely.

3. DVDs and Blu-Rays are coming out a lot faster these days as films are closing sooner, and availability on torrent sites are on or before these releases as well.

4. The general experience of sitting in an audience of 10 or less people on a film’s opening day (or 3 or less on subsequent days) generally reinforces the notion that these theaters are both struggling financially and are a depressing environment to begin with. Home is much safer and much cozier.

5. There are very few films shot on film anymore (kudos to J.J. Abrams for shooting Star Wars 7 on film though), so we are basically paying to watch a projected Blu-Ray. The warm whir of the projector and the pleasant dirtiness of marks and scratches you see on the film print seems to have died, and needs a vinyl-like comeback.

I could go on. I don’t want to see movie theaters go the same way that many retail stores have gone and will be going, but I’m sad to say that it is already happening– dying in front of us.

What we have left right now are torrent sites, YouTube, and Twitch, among others. Because of the immediacy of the availability of high-budgeted cinema along with super low-budget storytelling that can now be shot on a smartphone, 24/7 streamers that are treated like sport stars, it’s hard to find any outliers. Artistic merit, or the spirit of the auteur has gone out the window. Myself, I’m almost at the point where I forget major plot points of films and TV shows the second after I see them, and between people linking me YouTube content, or Twitch streamers who have no need for quality standards (even though streaming is 99% improvisation), I can’t remember usually what I saw, where I saw it, and certainly don’t expect to remember quality shots, scene composition, editing, lighting, cultural or expressive statements, etc etc etc. I remember the big picture, but I couldn’t tell you more than 1-2 lines of dialogue from Swiss Army Man.

It’s difficult to image a world without media. And once physical newspapers go away, movie theaters go as film companies start ‘straight to Netflix’ and/or ‘straight to HBO’ releases, and any artist’s work can be pulled up on any computer…anywhere, anytime…we will have achieved it. This is media in its most bastardized form, and it’s certainly not the media I know.