It’s no secret that the way media is being presented to us is rapidly changing. The battle of the TV networks is quickly turning into the battle of the streaming services and there’s buzz about how the future of both traditional television and movie theatres may be in danger of becoming obsolete. But what isn’t being discussed as much is how these new methods of delivery and consumption is changing the content and production of the media itself. Even just a decade ago, television, movies, and internet content were three very distinct forms of media. But now thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video, we’re seeing these mediums adopt more and more aspects of each other.
Streaming itself started off via sites like YouTube before it was adopted by bigger studios and entertainment companies. But most people associate streaming services with television more than online video, even though an internet connection is required to access these programs and the “wherever, whenever” style of watching is much more akin to a platform like YouTube than a traditional television network with certain programming on at scheduled times.
But of course, the idea of TV “stealing” from the film side of the entertainment industry isn’t anything new. It’s been going on ever since television hit the airwaves with made-for-TV movies, stand-alone programs longer than the typical episode of a television series with budgets much more modest than the typical theatrically-released motion picture.
Streaming services are making more smaller budget movies
These smaller budgets meant TV movie producers couldn’t achieve everything a theatrical tentpole could, so they didn’t pose a threat to the film industry. However, as streaming services have increased in popularity and studios have seen the value in it, the budgets for movies and especially headlining series on these services have increased substantially. (It was HBO’s Game of Thrones that was widely considered to be the program that opened the floodgates for this to become more commonplace).
A prime example of this is each of the upcoming Marvel Studios-produced series on Disney Plus- such as WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – having a budget of about half the size a theatrical feature film from the same studio typically would. Just a few years ago, this would be unheard of.
Oddly enough, Marvel Studios has traditionally been an example of the opposite phenomenon: big-budget tentpole movies adopting elements of a television series. Multi-sequel franchises are nothing new in Hollywood, but the films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are planned out well in advance to tell an overarching story, not unlike how a season of a TV show is mapped out prior to production.
Other studios have made attempts to replicate this format with their own major franchises. Not many have worked (and certainly none as well as the MCU thus far) but the mere fact that it has been proven possible (and profitable, if it works) has opened the door for more mega-storytelling in movies to come down the line.
This blurring of the lines between traditional film and television production elements – particularly on the television-adopting-film-techniques side of things – has been predicted by many for quite a while (basically ever since streaming became a thing). But the increasing amount of streaming services on the market has ramped this up. Companies know the majority of consumers have a limited amount of money to spend on entertainment, so they’re all trying to become the go-to service to subscribe to, not only in terms of the variety of programming available but the scale of it. At this point, if a streaming service lacks a headlining series that creates buzz, they’re in big trouble.
The impact of COVID-19 on streaming services
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has certainly also played a role in this blending. Before the crisis hit, most movies on streaming services were akin to TV movies produced for and aired on traditional television networks. But studios being forced to decide between delaying their movies scheduled for theatrical release or moving them to streaming services (or PVOD) has redefined the criteria for a film to get the fanfare of a theatrical release or not.
Up until a few months ago, it was unthinkable for something like Disney-Pixar’s Soul or a Warner Bros. DCEU sequel like Wonder Woman 1984 to be “dumped” onto streaming. But given the state of the pandemic, it’s now about to become reality when they are released to Disney+ and HBO Max, respectively, on December 25 (though the latter is actually going to be a hybrid theatrical/streaming release).
It’s possible that if studios like Marvel and Lucasfilm produce more interlinking content between their films and small-screen series the lines between them could blur even further. This could be especially true if streaming services become the dominant method of delivery for nearly everything in the entertainment world since connecting threads between movies and shows is a tough feat to accomplish if it requires consumers to go see a bunch of movies in theatres as well as subscribe to a streaming service.
Perhaps Netflix, the first subscription streaming service to rival the traditional cable television format, will also become the first service to manage a one-stop system of this nature for a franchise of its own (of which it has expressed interest in developing, notably an original one with no ties to outside source material). Its studio for original productions exclusively produces content for the platform and would have the capability to create all the content for said franchise, with shows and movies as short or long as needed for the story to be told, without the conventions of a typical TV series or theatrical film getting in the way. This would certainly be an advantage for consumer convenience if other studios like the aforementioned ones still had the hybrid theatrical/streaming format in play.
Do you like the idea of seeing a story told across more than one medium and format (ie. streaming series and theatrical films) or does that seem stressful and confusing and the convenience and simplicity of a one-stop-shop for keeping up with your favourite franchise seem more appealing? Let us know in the comments below.
What do you make of this feature? Do you think that movies and TV shows are going to blend into one in the future thanks to streaming? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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