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With Netflix and HBO, Does Anyone Care Whether They are Watching TV or Cinema Anymore?

Geostorm, a disaster movie about global warming, is now a full-fledged disaster in its own right, having sold only $67 million of tickets worldwide against a $120 million budget. When marketing costs are added into the mix, the movie may well lose $100 million in total.

Misery loves company. There have been five movies with budgets north of $100 million that have flopped this year – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Monster Trucks, Ghost In The Shell, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Summer ticket sales are down by 14.6 percent from the previous year, making this the worst cinematic summer since 2006, even without adjusting for inflation.

This is more fodder for the ongoing debate about the future of entertainment, with many people now arguing that television is a better entertainment option than movies.

Has Netflix ushered in a golden age of TV, or a golden age of cinema?

This is a relatively new debate. Back in the day, there was a huge stigma attached to film actors working in television. When Pierce Brosnan took over the James Bond role back in 1995, many grumbled that he was disqualified by his TV record as Remington Steele, which made him strictly small-screen material.

Back then, those that were able to make the leap from the small screen to the big one were the exception, rather than the rule, and they viewed the transition as a massive leap forward. Returning to TV after a movie career was clearly a huge step back.

That’s not the case anymore, as the lines between television and film continue to blur.

Netflix has changed the TV and cinema equation: Which one is it?

Netflix is producing original material that is available to stream the same day it appears in theaters. Our Souls at Night, a new film featuring screen legends Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, is Netflix’s latest foray into cross-pollinated entertainment.

Neither Redford nor Fonda would ever have considered appearing on television during their heyday, but now they have no problem with their newfound TV status. After all, should Our Souls at Night be considered a TV movie or a theatrical one? And does the distinction even matter anymore?

Part of the contrast between TV and film used to be budget distinctions, but these matter no matter less and less: Technology has brought down production costs.

In addition, streaming services like Netflix and HBO allow TV shows to produce according to arbitrary schedules that don’t coincide with traditional network calendars, so shows like Game of Thrones and Stranger Things can take their time and avoid the rushed, cheap feel of the shows from the old days.

And when it comes to breaking through to “water cooler” talk, nothing beats the seven seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, or Netflix’s Stranger Things – the second season of which launches on October 27.

And if you put many of these shows on the big screen, they would look right at home, so to speak. That wasn’t true of, say, Magnum PI or The Brady Bunch.

Netflix and HBO allow directors to take their time with TV and cinema storytelling

Television also has the advantage of being able to tell long-form stories over an extended period of time. Everyone who used to say “the movie wasn’t as good as the book” was usually complaining about the fact that much of the written story had to be condensed to fit into a film’s two-hour time frame.

But on television, book adaptations can go into greater depth than what’s on the printed page. Game of Thrones has exhausted all of its source material and has surpassed the books on which it is based. TV has also become a vehicle for telling remarkable original stories that can be replicated in any other medium.

Has there been a movie or novel released within the past decade that’s anywhere near as compelling as the five seasons of Breaking Bad? Certainly not Geostorm, that’s for sure.

The film industry seems aware of the quandary, so they’re trying to win back audience share by producing features that rely on the theater-going experience. Spectacle, not story, becomes the centerpiece of Hollywood blockbusters.

Three-dimensional IMAX releases are aimed at audiences that can’t replicate that same experience on a television. But as movies become bigger, louder, and sillier, audiences turn to television for the stories they’re missing. Unless Hollywood learn the lesson that it’s the story, not the spectacle, that really matters, they can expect many more Geostorm-esque disasters in the years to come.

(Promotional photo from Netflix for the launch of the second season of Stranger Things on October 27.)

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