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Digital Viewing Transition: The Rise of Netflix

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 6, 2011 at 2:03AM

In their excellent year-ahead discussion on KCRW's The Business, host Kim Masters and guests John Horn (the LAT) and Michael Schneider (Variety) agreed that 2011 marks a watershed year in the transition from traditional to digital viewing choices. They think the shift will come faster for movies than television. "The studios are burning along with huge overhead and a lot of movies that aren't working," says Masters, a confessed Luddite who defends theater-going.
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Thompson on Hollywood

In their excellent year-ahead discussion on KCRW's The Business, host Kim Masters and guests John Horn (the LAT) and Michael Schneider (Variety) agreed that 2011 marks a watershed year in the transition from traditional to digital viewing choices. They think the shift will come faster for movies than television. "The studios are burning along with huge overhead and a lot of movies that aren't working," says Masters, a confessed Luddite who defends theater-going.

"This year could be the year the movie theaters become the record store," argues Horn, who says the hopelessly old-fashioned movie industry is driven by economics.

"The revolution won't be televised this year," says Schneider, while admitting that Netflix and Google TV are enough to give network executives serious anxiety. "There hasn't been a lot of evidence of cord-cutting, but that's what the networks want to hold off...we're dealing with fire here."

In my household, at least, last Christmas Santa delivered a PS3 for blu-ray viewing, Netflix streaming (with disc) and Rock Band (which was a hit with me, my daughter and our friends). But we never did get the PS3 to connect to the internet via wifi. Under the tree this Christmas was a TiVo upgrade with HD, broadband, Amazon VOD, YouTube viewing, and instant Netflix streaming. (Check out J. Walter Thompson's things to look for in 2011.)

Oprah's OWN Network (which made a strong debut New Year's weekend; see Caryn James' review), True Blood, 30 Rock and Boardwalk Empire all look way better in HD. If I upgrade my sound system, my home entertainment center will be ship shape. Consumers like me only make things tougher for theater owners, who are fighting to keep the studios from shortening their ancillary windows.

While I am not close to considering cutting my cable cord, I do know many folks without cable who watch TV and movies via Netflix, iTunes and Hulu on their laptops. My daughter is watching the first season of Madmen now. But this story forecasting huge numbers of viewers abandoning cable due to Netflix streaming seems overstated.

The home page of Netflix (streaming instantly...) invites you to "connect devices like these [Wii, PS3, Xbox 360] to your Netflix account to watch instantly on your TV. Watch as often as you want, whenever you want. Plus watch instantly on iPad and iPhone too!" Netflix has been making more big deals with the likes of Starz. Niche films especially are doing well on Netflix.

Meanwhile, our family gained two Kindles this Christmas, but my tech-savvy college student daughter is more resistant than I expected. Maybe the e-book revolution will take longer than people think.

This article is related to: Box Office, Genres, Hollywood, Studios, Web/Tech, Digital Future, TV, DVDs, Exhibition, Sequel, Netflix, Google, Mad Men


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.