Narrating Media Change

As the end of the year approaches, we are greeted with countless articles and lists that try to make sense of the past and, in some cases, seek to predict what will happen next. We see lists of the best films or TV shows, articles identifying the most important media innovations, and in some cases lists of predictions for where the media industries are heading. Video Nuze, for example, has a long-running series featuring predictions by various new media pundits and entrepreneurs about where we’re going in 2012. These lists are inviting, in part, because they seem to offer some control over unpredictable change. Our video rental and purchasing habits seem to have changed dramatically, while theaters are devoted to 3D movies, and so we see reporting that tries to break down box office numbers and other forms of data.

But, as David Poland points out, much of this reporting and predicting is based on a very selective reading of box office data, reproducing misleading assumptions and identifying change where there is actually quite a bit of continuity. In fact, as Poland observes, trend pieces about the movie industry are complicated by the many different streams where movies can be accessed. Further, despite claims of a box office slump, Poland points out that two of the six major studios were actually up this year, for example. But I’m less interested in questions about whether the industry is profitable than I am in considering the explanations being offered to account for the box office slump.

As Poland observes, we’re continuing to hear some of the same explanations–more competition from other media, internet piracy, and so on. An AP article on the “slump” even suggests that a struggling economy and a “backlash” against sequels might be factors, even though the very same article acknowledges that “big franchises” (Harry Potter, etc) continue to do well. These explanations were offered the last time there was widespread discussion of a box office slump.

Similarly, David Carr’s New York Times article overstates some of the changes that are taking place. Carr, for example, seems to reinforce the “platform agnosticism” argument, the idea that consumers don’t care where they watch content. Some of the other changes Carr identifies are also hardly new. Carr claims that “the multiplatform and infinite-channel universe can manufacture its own celebrities,” but this type of claim ignores the ways in which conglomerates are involved in the process of manufacturing celebrity.

Tech Crunch offers a more precise approach by placing some of the more common claims about media change under greater scrutiny. They identify 12 things that “won’t happen” in 2012, challenging assumptions about mobile technologies, cord-cutting, tablets, and the death of television. I’m writing in a state of distraction, so I don’t know that I can wrap this entry as effectively a I would like, but I think the main point is to suggest that we need a more adept understanding not only of how box office numbers work but also better explanations of media change.

1 Comment »

  1. The Chutry Experiment » Reading Retail and Rental Said,

    December 30, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

    [...] up on yesterday’s post, I have a couple f other quick thoughts about how we read trends in the movie industry. First, The [...]

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