Lights! Camera! Action? How Mobile Is Changing the Future of Movies

December is a great time for movies. If you’re a real film buff, this is the time of the year when the last of the huge award-bait movies have been released. Myself, I can’t wait for Inherent Vice to open near me. Pynchon, Paul Thomas Anderson, a shaggy dog mystery of intense paranoia: what’s not to like? There’s always a weird mix of movies in December: some quirky releases that the studios hope will get some prestige, but weren’t totally sure about.

More than that, though, it is a great time to go to the movies. They generally aren’t that crowded, they are a nice release from the hustle and madness of the holiday season, and if you are spending a lot of time with family, they are a great way to get everyone quiet for a few hours and then have something to talk about later. For some families, a Christmas movie is a tradition- even fighting about which movie to see is an annual rite that, if forsaken, will be oddly missed. However, the rise of mobile technology might be changing that, as the future of movies is being altered not just by the ubiquity of of devices, but by their startling advances.

Mobile interaction and movies
Will old movie palaces like the Pickwick- or the modern cineplex- still be viable in the age of mobile? Image from

Movies: the newest art form isn’t going anywhere

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I don’t think the movie industry is in any trouble of disappearing. It may be altered, the old dinosaurs may give way to quicker, more nimble foes, or they may collapse under their own suffocating weight. But movies aren’t going to go anywhere, and I don’t truly think movie theaters are going to disappear anytime soon. After all, while I probably don’t need to see Inherent Vice on a 70-ft screen (though I will) I wouldn’t have wanted to watch Interstellar on anything smaller than IMAX.

That said, nothing can totally withstand the flash flood of mobile tech unscathed. like extras in Noah’s Ark. Movies are already being greatly affected, for good and for ill. Here are a few ways.

  • Convenience. Depending on how old you are, you may remember going to a movie and it being sold out, with people being turned away at the ticket office, driven back by teens thrust into authority. You may remember looking through the paper to see what is playing when and deciding that way. You may remember calling a movie phone like and hearing what movies were playing. That’s all in the past. Now you can be out with friends, decide to see a movie, look up the nearest theater, and buy your tickets in a matter of minutes. This is great for the movie business, as it makes seeing movies even more of a convenience. As mobile ticketing abilities get sharper- such as this one that doesn’t even need to be scanned– going to the show will become even easier.
  • Interaction. This is something that you would think no one wants, but enough people do that it is gaining momentum. We all heard about the Chinese theaters that would scrawl tweets and text messages across the screen. It seems awful to many of us, but as long as it is confined to certain screenings, I can see how that would be a boon. You could even have a good crew and make it a live, interactive MST3K event. Or it could just be teens snarking about celebs. Either way, it allows for the idea that interaction is a right. It could also change the movies in a number of unforeseen ways, as studios try to craft movies that will play to an audience, but that is an artistic question outside the ruthless business instincts of this article. Other interaction are Tweets and Vines on the screen that encourage users to submit their own, tied into a product. This gets free advertising, viral potential, and gets people to come back to the movies to see if their 6-second Twizzler ad set the world on fire.
  • Leads people to the cinema. Over the summer, Variety talked about a Neilsen survey that said 87% of people on Twitter made their last movie decision based on tweets, and a full 65% of them follow movie-related accounts. This is an incredible way for movies to reach people, especially when combined with geotargeting. Imagine getting a tweet when you are at the mall that says, hey, the new Hobbit is playing like 30 feet away in 20 minutes, and you loved the first two, right?
  • Leading people out of the cinema. Of course, it isn’t all wine and roses. People can get great HD quality in their homes, on the train, while waiting at the DMV. Combined with on-demand, there is less pressure to see a movie in the theater. This is changing the business as they try to get more multi-level releases, but there are some things it might not be able to compete with, like personalized virtual reality.

Still, though, if human history teaches us anything, it is that no advances in technology rob us of our need for story. Even if VR can take us swooping through the jungle primeval in a total sensory immersion except for the heat and the insects, at some point we’re going to just want to watch Bacall teach Bogie to whistle, or George Bailey discover true riches, or Michael Corleone lost his soul, or giant robots thwomp hell out of aliens. There will always be a need for movies, but mobile technology will alter them, both commercially, and to an extent not yet known, artistically.

It is the strangest industry in America, a mix of ruthless capitalism, petty hatreds, outsized egos, and true artistic abilities. It isn’t going anywhere, and will adapt to mobile tech. It’s as phony as the pleasant, green town that it grew up in and as real as the desert the town was built over. Norma Desmond famously said that she was still big, and the pictures got small. The pictures are getting smaller, and more personal, but movies will still always be an outsized part of our cultural heritage.

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