The constant evolution of how we access our entertainment is always an interesting, almost unpredictable guessing game, with sure-things flopping unexpectedly and bizarre ideas gaining steam. It can be particularly interesting in an Irish context, especially when looking back at the long, dark days of “two channels, and maybe a dodgy static-y feed of BBC 2 if you wiggle the aerial about” era.
The past is littered with things that, looking back, seem hilariously redundant; things like Laser Disks, Betamax and HD DVDs seem like they couldn’t really succeed. I remember my dad winning a handheld television in a USA 94 World Cup competition: the screen was the size of a wristwatch, the overall unit was huge & chunky and it cost several hundred pounds. Nevermind the fact that you could buy a large flat-screen television for the same cost, but why would you honestly use that when Tony Cascarino is literally the size of an ant?
There’s a line in Tropic Thunder where one character talks about how it doesn’t matter what medium Hollywood studios back because the winner is decided by whoever the porn industry backs. While that was true in the 80s & 90s with VHS and DVDs respectively, the impact of porn distribution on physical media has undoubtedly been felled due to the advent of the internet as a platform over the last 10 years. The Internet has changed distribution in literally every way; that seems like an overly obvious statement but it’s indescribable how much it has changed media. For example, in the 90s you might hear of a film coming out in America and just presume it wouldn’t reach Irish shores for a few months (if at all). The same could be said for television shows, ‘debuting’ on Irish television years after they’ve finished broadcasting in its native land. Now, however, there’s an onus for a relatively direct release all around the world for major productions because if they don’t then you can easily find it or find out about it online.
Film theatre distribution, except for the time of release in foreign markets, really hasn’t changed, with home media being the main money battlefield. Netflix has changed the minds of companies & artists in such a way that Xtra-Vision, a former titan of film rental chains, has been reduced to a series of vending machines. It’s also changed minds when it comes to price-point, in that it shows that people are more willing to pay a low, flat monthly fee than a per-use cost. This is also represented by the fall from grace of the Pay-Per-View industry when it comes to combat sports & professional wrestling.
So where do we go now? A large part of me wants to say it’s some bizarre 3D CGI virtual reality goggles, but that’s not going to happen. People are doing some cool things with VR, including that 360° video of 500 Simpsons episodes playing at once, and there’s something to be said for VR experiences for sports games & live events, but VR isn’t going to be the major player in film & TV. Netflix, too, may be on the way out, with content rights fees rising continually, and with productions companies & television channels like HBO, Hulu & WWE making their own Netflix-esque platforms, then it may be the beginning of the end for the one-stop-shop content provider. Streaming media is undoubtedly the future, and with a large amount of media being consumed on mobile platforms, I could see a company like Amazon or Roku making a tablet just for streaming, possibly with a subscription package grouping a lot of these services together. Without other apps or telephone abilities, this tablet could be a cost-effective way for people to access these services for the first time, or on a consistent basis.
So the future of media distribution is a centralised streaming mobile platform, but then again, someone once thought the betamax was the zenith of our abilities, so just watch Sony release a giant crab monster that beams re-runs of Murder She Wrote directly into our brains that revolutionises the film & television world.