Movie Hits Are Taking a Hit: Shifting from Mainstream to Streaming Media


The film and TV industries have always been competitive for sure. You have your A-listers, your B-listers, and so called D-listers. The A-listers starred in hit movies and TV shows. Period. The B-listers did made-for-TV movies and some pretty good, if not short-lived TV shows. And, the D-listers, well, they popped up here and there. I’m noticing all that is changing now and I’m not the only one.

A-listers are appearing in TV series and mini-series. B-listers are appearing in movies—good movies, but no one expects them to be hit movies as blockbusters are few and far between. This applies to music and books too, but I’m a movie buff so I’ll mostly stick to what I know best.

Is This All There Is?

In days gone by, our means of accessing content (whether video, audio, or print) were limited. We went to a movie or drive-in movie for, uh, movies. We listened to the radio, groovy records, and later CDs for music and the like. And, we read daily newspapers, monthly magazines, and the latest from the book-of-the-month club.

What you found from those distributions channels were what executives (with the help of media experts and a lot of market study) thought would make the most money. Anything outside of this realm was more difficult to find. (Thinking about if from the other end, if you were the artist, it was difficult to produce because the market couldn’t reach you very easily.) I remember studying aspects of this as an undergrad in various mass communication courses.

But, the reason we see fewer hit movies isn’t because our preferences have changed; it’s because we are finally able to indulge our preferences.

Changing Channels

It’s not that big hits and mainstream content are going away entirely. The reason seems to be our ability to access streaming media—it’s easy. From the content producers end, it’s easier and more affordable to put content online even if you don’t have a robust following yet. The big hit producers are having to compete with these “alternative” content providers. To do that, they have be “in the media” their competitors are in.

A sentence from Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart (p. 251) gives some insight into this process:

“Social media are permitting people to seek support, information, and a sense of belonging from sparsely knit, loosely bound networks as well as the traditional densely knit, tightly bound groups.”’

Those loose networks can be thought of as non-mainstream, alternative content providers and their enthusiasts. So, it’s not that our tastes have shifted, but we’re finally able to access more of what we’ve always wanted to access. Chris Anderson explains it this way in The Long Tail:

“But most of us want more than just hits. Everyone’s taste departs from the main-stream somewhere, and the more we explore alternatives, the more we’re drawn to them. Unfortunately, in recent decades such alternatives have been pushed to the fringes by pumped-up marketing vehicles built to order by industries that desperately need them.

Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, DVDs, and games produced.”

I would say it’s been more than recent decades though. It’s too vast a subject for a blog post, but if you look back on the history of mass media and go back just before it began, you’ll find what we call “niche” content today.

Someday soon, I believe that idea will fall away and we’ll just talk about the latest content whether it comes from big-house publishers or sole (and soulful) artists. Someday soon, we’ll watch the Oscars and hear: “And the Oscar for best documentary goes to that woman over there who filmed the entire thing on her mobile phone.” Very respectable.

Posted on October 25, 2015, in Digital, Social Media, Society, Technology, television, Video. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Aaron, Agreed that our tastes have not changed but we’re finally able to indulge in the things we always wanted to. I remember having to go to those rare, special video stores that offered foreign and art films. I would have to drive and drive to get there, but it was worth it, because there were rarely foreign or art films on TV that I could catch; being a parent of two kids, I don’t get to the movies very often. I hated all the inane offerings on TV, so I just quit watching it, instead renting the occasional movie. But now we have Netflix and Amazon and Hulu! Finally, I can watch the non-blockbuster movies and shows I want to watch from the comfort of my home, and I’m delighted!

  2. Thank you for your comment, Mary. It really is amazing to see how easy it is now to access a variety of content of all types. I was talking last night to a coworker. His primary media intake is radio and has been most of his life. I enjoy good radio too (think NPR). But, we both agreed that podcasts are critical for radio-buffs. They have a similar feel and you can access content you would never get on mainstream–or even subscription radio.

  3. Something that I’ve found interesting for years, perhaps because I was an early Twitter adopter and have seen hashtags evolve (and devolve), is how TV shows are putting up hashtags for you to livetweet your viewing experience. Sometimes it’s not just the title of the show but various moments within the show. See for some info about “on screen hashtags.”

    So it’s beyond just accessing content, it’s about interacting with it, and likely not fully paying attention, right?

    Stars of TV shows are asking you to ask them questions and some shows are taking those tweets and putting them up on the screen, e.g. Dancing with the Stars. There is some research out there on this but I’m wondering what others think of this phenomenon.

    • I don’t watch cable these days (it’s gotten to be so expensive in Canada), so I haven’t seen the hashtags. I have seen them on adds and have noticed shows mentioning websites within their programs. I think once on Will & Grace they flashed “” up on the screen. I remember reading an article about that (now years ago) how the site blew up over the number of hits.

      So, yes, I do think people must follow the hashtags. It would be interesting to read the numbers.

      One thing I have noticed in similar vein is product positioning. There is a show on Netflix that zooms in on characters’ mobile devices showing them writing on their screens or sending video messages, etc. Here is a fun related article:

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