A couple weeks ago, we posted a blog about Disney's upcoming streaming service, and how they are planning some big-name releases for it. It seems that eleven years after Netflix introduced its services, digital streaming is definitely here to stay. That is not to say, though, that its effects are not fully realized. Digital streaming has enabled a convergence of different outlets, blurring the lines between different distribution services. For any entertainment firm to survive in this new age, it needs to take steps to understand this convergence.
Much has been said about Netflix and others' impact on filmmaking. Just a couple weeks ago, Steven Spielberg spoke about the matter, saying that films that release on streaming platforms should not be allowed to be considered for the Oscars. Instead he insisted they should only be considered for Emmy Awards. His concern grew out of the fact that it's increasingly difficult for filmmakers "to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically." Christopher Nolan has also criticized the practice, saying that it takes away from the theatrical experience.
It doesn't change the fact though that more and more, studios are turning to streaming services as more than just secondary distribution after a theatrical or television run. It's now a primary distribution outlet, with original series made by both the streaming companies and established studios. Just this year, Annihilation opened to a domestic theatrical run, while simultaneously launching on Netflix abroad. Films and television now rub elbows on computer screens around the world. As a result, they're beginning to look awfully similar...
Take for example the question of budgets. This past December, Netflix released Bright on its platform, an urban fantasy film that cost about $90 million to produce. That's the same budget as the smash hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle which hit theaters about the same time. Made for TV films have historically carried far less production value than their theatrical counterparts, but that gap is starting to disappear. Even looking at serials, budgets are ballooning. For example, in season six of Game of Thrones, each episode cost roughly $10 million to make. Contrast that with films like 2017's Split, with only a $5 million budget.
Serials themselves pose a myriad of other questions. Some have neat little thirty-minute episodes that all tie together, quite distinguishable from stand-alone films. Some, however, boast hour-long episodes that feel cinematic in their own right. In any case, films often connect into series as well. How great is the difference between, say, Batman Begins/The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises and Gotham episodes 1-3? And what about series, such as Black Mirror, where the episodes do not connect at all?
Film and television have evolved as media for decades, changing to fit their environment and viewers. The two-parter episode, the cinematic universe, so many ways have been found to manipulate the media to deliver unique experiences. In the past, they tried to distinguish themselves through methods ranging from outlandish (TV sweepstakes and better theater experiences) to the mundane (tweaking aspect ratios to be unwatchable in other formats). The reason we should care about the convergence of television and film into streaming is because we can now find even more ways to tell better stories. Anthologies can be assembled and released simultaneously, for example. It poses new challenges as well; television producers can't listen to feedback on early parts of their seasons and use it to alter later parts, everything must be released at once. Streaming, in a way, has become a medium of its very own, and it may be a decade or even more until its potential is realized. Like it or dislike it, it must be considered as a force to be reckoned with today.