Viewers Take the Power Back

Today’s world makes it possible to own not just one TV screen but several devices each with their own screen and multiple viewing options. You can watch films at the cinema, on your flat screen, on your computer, on your tablet, on your cellphone or just about anywhere that has a display. There are so many different ways to watch a movie these days that it seems you’re plugged into entertainment wherever you are. Streaming services make it easy to download content so you’re just a click away from playing your favourite series, film or a latest release.

While it’s wonderful to think that you can press play in a queue, on a commuter train or in the park under a tree, the power has been handed to the viewer. Sure, streaming services may act like they hold all the cards with most people using their subscription plan as the yardstick when it comes to good value and all other entertainment pricing, but the truth is… the viewer is now in command. Consumers have more choice than ever, use their viewing histories to dictate the kind of entertainment that sells… just look at the proliferation of superhero blockbusters and as an end user, the companies can’t wait to use your stats to do your bidding.

While it’s an exciting time for entertainment, it’s also a bit scary when you consider that mainstream is navel-gazing so hard that it may actually consume itself. Straight-to-video is still a thing with Netflix delivering a stream of 5.8/10 movies, possibly a better average than your video store did but perhaps in all the check box ticking something may be getting lost. Entertainment should find a balance between artistic merit and pandering to audiences, otherwise it’s going to become bland to oblivion much like the thing known as Red Notice. It’d be a much better world with more Dune and less Red Notice, allowing the souls of creators to rest easy at night and allowing them to create rather than serve up mindless tripe for the masses.

Decades ago, there were only a few screens at your disposal, you had to watch what was served up and it wasn’t on demand. It’s strange for the youth to consider a time when they had to eat what was put in front of them whether on the TV screen or a plate. Nowadays, we’ve got media flying at us from every corner of the Internet and with the wealth of various viewing options on electronic devices from mobile phones to smart TVs, there’s a bottomless pit that singlehandedly lumps every single bit of entertainment in your field of vision as if it was released yesterday.

The biggest problem nowadays isn’t finding the entertainment by visiting the local cinema, video store or paging through the TV guide, it’s actually sifting through the glut. Netflix is notorious for only showing what they want you to see. It’s a pain trying to mine their database of film and series, conjuring up a different kind of problem unless you’ve got the film or series title on standby. JustWatch is a great option for condensing all streaming service content into a much easier-to-navigate format, something that makes so much sense right now, dealing with a here-and-now champagne problem.

Perhaps this also explains the dwindling numbers for the Academy Awards. While we do our best to get out and see the latest films, most are flocking to the kinds of movies that opt for spectacle over substance. These aren’t traditionally Oscar-winning films and while they tend to sneak into the technical categories, they’re visually-intensive rather than tending towards the nuanced drama the Oscars have usually gravitated towards.

The awards ceremony has gone through a number of changes, trying to accommodate and shift in accordance with criticism. It’s pandering to the masses, trying to roll with the times and become flexible enough to adapt to changing attitudes and appetites. A dinosaur trying to get measured for a dinner suit, these attempts at self-correction are appreciated as a gesture but seem to be further diluting the awards show’s relevance altogether. In trying to please so many people, adjust its format to be more palatable, update outmoded traditions and appeal to modern audiences… it’s losing its soul in the process and the changes seem to actually be doing more harm than good.

With everyone pulling the awards show in different directions, it seems as though it may end up doing everything and pleasing no one. It’s a sad state of affairs for an illustrious gold standard awards show, which is still regarded by industry professionals as the stuff of dreams, a real seal of approval… of one’s film talent. Now that the Golden Globes has self-imploded with many awardees returning or threatening to destroy their awards, it seems as though the coveted Oscars may eventually be the only horse in the international film awards race. Awards are problematic and usually political in any industry. Shining a spotlight around at the hypocrisies may be helping with a fresh start and some overdue self-reflection but turning everything into a witch hunt has the power to create an environment of perpetual suspicion where no one is safe and progress is stunted.

Gathering presenters again, pre-recording some major award categories, creating a too-little-too-late nod to the snubs… the Academy Awards are getting a great deal of press but mostly for the wrong reasons. Will there ever be a perfect awards show? No. Are industry awards shows meant to do it for everyone? No. While the clean up and promises of change are a good thing, the change management seems to be all over the place. It seems silly for the rest of the world to be hinging the success of their films on the lone Best International Feature, something smashed by Parasite. One wonders if the Los Angeles awards show will ever be good enough when it celebrates everything that is Hollywood in a world where illusions are crashing down in favour of authenticity.