If the stats are to be believed, Generation Z are an increasingly distracted bunch of individuals; highly-coveted, screen-savvy, mobile-centric and with little engagement for the fine arts of this world. As a generation that struggles to be interested in the arts that millennials pine for, how are cinemas responding to the declining interest from young people at the box office?
With lifestyles that revolve around convenience, catered to by constant digital advances, entertainment has never been so accessible to the teens of today. Ordering, watching, communicating and listening; all at the touch of a button for the majority of the Western world’s Gen Z. Every year, we see more young people shunning the cinema in favour of streaming, who favour convenience over quality.
Many directors have spoken of their outrage surrounding such a disregard for the artistic elements within films, suggesting that films were never meant to, and should never, be designed to be watched on an iPhone; a seemingly obvious and underwhelming way to enjoy films, yet one that is practiced far too often. With no obvious way to transport the big screen and all it’s unique attributes to the comfort of your own home (without a spare million pounds or so), there is the question of when the inevitable split will happen, where part of the industry will cater to films made for entirely different mediums other than cinema and, in doing so, will they alienate an entire generation from the big screen or will they richen the film industry?
“Now, if you’re playing a movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film, you’ll think you have experienced it but you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your fucking telephone. Get real.”
A developing trend to note is that film made for the internet doesn’t adhere to a specific genre. Cinemas cater for specific groups of people; from whole families, to couples, to groups of friends with varying genre tastes, which is why children’s films often have adult references (e.g. Shrek, Fantastic Mr Fox) and why rom coms are increasingly catering to both men and women (e.g Silver Linings Playbook), with a new sub-genre of overtly daring rom coms that include a plethora of genres mixed into a love story of sorts (e.g. Zach and Miri Make a Porno, Knocked Up).
Rarely, do you frequent your local cinema alone, but often, many people across the world will sit down to their laptop screen to watch a movie alone. In the comfort of their own home, individuals are finding more bespoke content to watch. Niche is the new genre, when it comes to online audiences.
When looking at how Millennials approach the cinema, there has been a resurgence of popularity, whether it be due to the ever-growing obsession of the old and analogue or the nostalgic resurgence of popular films series, like Star Wars. Millennials now appreciate film as an art-form, rather than simply entertainment, meaning that interest in fully divulging one's self in the cinematic experience has reared it’s head once again for the slightly older generation.
Whilst cinema largely relies on blockbusters to bring in crowds, they’ve also noted the need to keep interest in the lulls between releases. The want for the past greats of cinema to come back to the big screen is growing; with many cinemas now offering screenings of our old favourites, giving a new sense of adventure to the cinema experience; indulging in your favourites, instead of discovering your favourites.
Gen Z are yet to develop a taste for the cinematic experience, with the convenience of streaming still taking precedent, but what does this mean for the future of cinema? Will this trend mean a development in genres to cater to an ever-widening range of films available to the lone-streamer; in which case, is that really a bad thing? Or, does it mean that the original cinematic experience will die? Gen Z are hyper-social, constantly-connected people who require constant exciting alternatives to the ones they experience at home. So, does cinema need to evolve at a faster pace for the generation who expects more? Has streaming simply become a background pastime, making films a less than exciting activity?
The introduction of the 4D cinema experience could be pointing in the right direction, whereby cinemas are trying to lure in their missing audience by offering an all-round experience that ignites all the senses, including touch and smell. But, little else has been done to explore a way to keep all generations interested in the cinema and away from streaming, as well as staying popular with the younger generation. Millennials grew up with the evolution of cinema, from the excitement of the big screen to VHS to DVD, to streaming, they have matured alongside the progression of the cinema. Yet, Gen Z have always had access to everything… everywhere. Their expectations far surpass what we expected when we were 15; brand new movies have and always will be available to them in the comfort of their own home, even when they’re in the cinema.
Re-inventing the cinema experience is something that forward-thinking businesses will explore in the next decade. What has previously worked for 100 years can no longer apply to the digital age. Cinemas need to adopt a more social experience, with a less walk in, walk out attitude.
An interesting point made earlier is that of different films being catered to different platforms. With blockbusters and visually artistic films being kept for the big screen, a sub-genre of films has emerged online from video-on-demand giants such as Netflix, who have created a ‘netflix only’ trend by releasing their Originals, ‘a streaming-take on the cinema’. A collection of either unconventionally entertaining or informative films have started to appear (rather than cinematic), with some rather far-fetched storylines and increasingly individual takes on genres.
Films such as Tallulah, The Fundamentals of Caring and 13th, have been specifically bought for Netflix, under their ‘Originals’ category; they explore difficult themes, topics and taboos, which is a direct result of digitally evolving film and streaming. What streaming has allowed us to do is specifically pick more fine-tuned genres that directly relate to a viewer's beliefs and opinions, exploring topics such as disability, race and gender which could be negatively received if released into mainstream cinema.
This increasingly digital direction from the film industry is making the films that are of more interest to Gen Z accessible online only, with many not receiving a large or any press around screenings in the cinema (if they were indeed premiered on the big screen at all). Is it any wonder that the cinema seems less appealing to our youngest viewers?
Streaming has also instigated the trend of ‘binge watching’, something most of us are guilty of at one point in our lives. But is this a contributing factor as to why the cinema is less appealing in a digital age or is it the result of a diminishing attention span that we have indirectly created ourselves due to our fast-paced environment?
As a team, After Digital are a bunch of vast and varied film buffs, who revel in the idea of going to the cinema, but even as self-confessed fanatics, many of us would prefer to stick to streaming on a rainy Winter’s evening, with convenience over quality once again reigning supreme.
However, cinema certainly isn’t a dying pastime for millennials and doesn’t necessarily have to be for Gen Z, but the way in which it’s approached has to be changed. A more interactive/social experience should be considered, alongside exploration into films that push boundaries further. It’s an exciting time for the film industry and its continued digital transformation and, personally, I look forward to watching the battle between cinema and streaming continue.