Watch Instantly: Why We’re Streaming What We’re Streaming

You know you want to watch it. (Netflix)

You know you want to watch it. (Netflix)

Over a week ago, Variety reported that consumers spent more money on streaming services like Netflix then on premium subscriptions like HBO. (HBO GO falls in the latter category, in case you were interested.)

So why aren’t these services drinking cinema’s box office’s milkshake in the same way?

Daniel Carlson over at Pajiba has a theory:

I think what really makes TV so popular on Netflix, though, is the way Netflix has designed itself to replicate the TV viewing experience: passive, supportive, and boasting a million channels we can flip between at our leisure.

Mr. Carlson notes that when scrolling on the Watch Instantly’s “Popular on Netflix” section, there were 28 TV titles, but only 12 films. And it’s not only because we’re binge-watching House of Cards, although hey, we do love that show. It’s because watching TV, even binging on TV, is less of a hassle than putting on Mitt for your Saturday night movie. Or, if you rather: TV is non-committal, movies are an “experience” that requires your full attention. (There’s a reason we call them “feature films” as opposed to “feature TV.”)

Yet at the same time, TV lends itself to more “event”-like coverage, with no one on your Facebook feed talking about Blackfish with the same intensity or duration that they discuss season 3 of Sherlock, despite the trending popularity of the sad SeaWorld story, or the fact that the entirety of the latter is about as long as one episode of the former. It can feel like less of a hassle to watch Sherlock, even when it isn’t.

Despite the decline of box office sales in 2011 that people attributed to the rise of home entertainment services like Netflix instant, it seems the correlation is less the 1-1 that it is for HBO or Showtime. In fact, the box office rose to a record-breaking high in 2012, and last year’s ticket sales were even higher than that. As Mr. Carlson says:

Movies are presented in a darkened theater where we’re discouraged from talking or distracting our neighbors; TV blasts away in a bright living room, as much a part of the environment as anything else, and it’s rarely as demanding of our focus.

And since 3-D TVs didn’t happen the moment we wanted them to, we’d still rather see Avatar in the theaters than at home.

If you need any more proof, here’s an easy test: Given the choice the new House of Cards trailer and the one for Mitt, which would you watch first?


Yeah, we thought so. Don’t worry, we’ll let Frank know you’re on his side.