I think we are beginning to see some of the effects of monopoly in the very successful new work of the megalithic streaming platforms, namely Netflix, HBO and Amazon. With such offerings as The Crown, The Widow, True Detective, etc., we are now in an aesthetic era somewhere between feature filmmaking and serialized TV.
Serialized TV has had a long history in the era of advertising based entertainment through the network era, then the cable era, and now this new milieu of entertainment that earns it’s keep not by pleasing advertisers, or individual cinema ticket buyers, but a new animal entirely; namely the permanent subscription based service that takes as it’s sign of achievement the capturing of an audience that will commit to hours and hours of loyal watching.
This brings about a new aesthetic. Not needing to please advertisers kicks it into a the territory of risqué sensationalism to differentiate it from the code of ad based broadcasters, and on the other hand, since the object is long term commitment, easy to understand and traditional cinematic storytelling; templated production style and technique adjusted for the long haul.
What seems to be fading is the tolerance for creative, one-off filmmaking, in which risks are taken for that one unique experience that will have no sequel, no loyal repeat audience, but that has the chance to reach the heavens in a moment of singular inspiration.
HBO, being the longest player in the subscription game cut its teeth in the era of cinema and from the start was attempting to live up to it’s name, “Home Box Office,” emerging at a time when theatrical cinema was the gold standard, and they wanted to differentiate themselves from the networks, so their aesthetic still has resonance with the earlier form. It was TV in imitation of cinema.
While watching The Crown the other night, I was struck by how cinematic and movie-like the production was, but then episode after episode, the very professionalism of the creators begins to dilute itself in the imagination as the same qualities are repeated predictably scene after scene. High marks for professionalism, but diminishing returns for the art of cinema.
Which brings us back to the constant threat looming in the background of professionalism vs. art; that thing that the late Anthony Bourdain expressed his disdain for, competence vs. authenticity.
As this realm of entertainment becomes saturated with the financially viable, templated big-budget series, perhaps audiences will eventually begin to seek out more unique forms- already YouTube is gathering a larger and larger percentage of online viewing; so that tells me that there is a need for the uncurated. The question will be how a decentralized viewing menu will work logistically for a curious public. Perhaps some technological infrastructure will emerge to connect the curious and eclectic viewer with unique one-off content in a model that can make true cinematic films commercially viable in the new streaming world.