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How streaming has caused a shift in the film industry

September 20, 2021

When Netflix first started streaming movies in 2007, Carleen Hsu, a film professor at Michigan State University, felt uncertain.

“I felt very torn because media, like film, is something that is meant to be watched and taken in and experienced by an audience together,” Hsu said. “Streaming services take that experience away from the theater and away from what the filmmakers intend."

As of May 2020, 62% of adults in the U.S. subscribe to some sort of streaming service, according to a 2021 Statistica survey.

Hsu, who is also a professional filmmaker, said going to a theater means no distractions and the audience is completely focused, which is beneficial to filmmakers.

However, Hsu said she did see the positives of the streaming industry, as well. Hsu said streaming has basically democratized media consumption and in that way, it's a great thing.

Interdisciplinary humanities junior Faith Pan, who uses Disney+ and Netflix, believes streaming has become so popular because of its flexibility and convenience. 

Pan said she prefers streaming because she’s bad at keeping up with shows and “it’s always there and available.” 

Streaming has become so popular that many streaming services now have their own studios where they can produce their content, media and information professor David McCarty said. McCarty said he is interested in the economic side of the film industry. 

A Business Insider article reports that, in 2019, Netflix alone released 371 movies and TV shows. In 2021, Netflix was again in the lead with 39% of original content being released from their studio with HBO Max just behind them at 37%.

“To me, everything boils down to supply and demand," McCarty said. "Back in the old days, when there were just a few cable channels, of course, supply and demand was so much lower. But now, anybody with a camera and a half-decent idea can go shoot and make a program.”

Journalism junior Destinee Shelly subscribes to Netflix and Hulu. She said she believes the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the popularity of streaming services.

“No one is really wanting to go out anymore," Shelly said. "Everyone is wanting to stay home and especially with schools being closed, everyone was just sitting down in their house streaming and watching movies and TV shows.”

Despite the rise in streaming, McCarty believes that movie theaters will survive because there will always be people who enjoy that experience. The theater has relied on concession to bring in revenue and tie together the whole movie experience, McCarty said. 

COVID-19 has in fact changed the preferred way of seeing movies for many people. According to a 2021 Statistica survey, 28% of respondents preferred going to theaters while only 15% preferred streaming. However, in June 2020, mid-pandemic, only 14% of respondents still preferred theaters whereas 36% of respondents now preferred streaming.

“Going to the movies was a social event, either as a date or with a group of friends," McCarty said. "The big screen with the surround system, especially for many people that don't have that to reproduce at home, that's a big reason to go to the theater.” 

Pan is one of the people who still prefer going to the movie theater, despite the convenience of streaming.

“With COVID, it's such an experience now to go to the movie theater,” Pan said. “I feel like I really miss that and I feel like at home we were just watching it and it's not the same feeling. I definitely like movie theaters, that's for sure.”

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