The Future is Light and Short

Many writers have pointed out (e.g. Crooked Timber, Daniel Read et al, and the Wall Street Journal) that when we have to choose what movie to watch days ahead of time (as with Netflix), we tend to make more ambitious choices than what we want when the time comes to watch. For example, many people select a bunch of “highbrow” movies on Netflix, then don’t feel like watching them when they arrive.

Netflix is a great bonanza for highbrow movies today, but what will happen when people have access to a library the size of Netflix, but no longer have to make choices days ahead of time?

Brad Templeton wrote a great piece about this, predicting:

…the real shift coming is to pay-per-view and downloading. If people look at the PPV menu and usually pick the light movie over the serious one, then the market for the serious ones is sunk.

Sadly, I think he is right. But neither good nor bad is his other interesting observation:

I’ve also noticed a push for shorter programming… When you just sit down to choose something from your library, the temptation is strong to watch shorter things instead of making a 2 hour committment to a longer thing.

The data sample is small, but my experience is definitely similar. I now have a pile of a few dozen DVDs acquired through Peerflix. Picking a movie at my house means straining my eyes to find the “running time” in tiny print on every disc, and more often than not, choosing among the shortest.

This could be good news for independent filmmakers, because shorter means cheaper. But if this small sample is predicting correctly, even the big studios would be wise to take note.

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