The curious technology shift that is making television shows better than movies

I am finally more into watching episodic television shows than movies.

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I binged watched Stranger Things on Netflix recently.

When I posted about watching the last episode on my social media accounts, quite a few people chimed in with some suggestions (thank you!), but the one that seemed the most peculiar -- because it’s not a fantasy show at all -- is called The Night Of. With lightning fast reflexes, I switched over the HBO Go app. My 200 meg connection barely noticed, even though I watched Stranger Things in 4K and the HBO Go was on my iPad Pro and streamed in HD while I was running a browser in the background.

I'm hooked. I may never go back to seeing movies and television the same way.

What’s changed in technology that has caused this massive shift in my own thought process? I’m a major movie buff and, for the past two decades, I’ve always picked a theatrical release like Star Trek: Beyond over anything on HBO. Even up until last year, I viewed Netflix as a movie-watching channel (such as they are) and not as a way to stream original shows. If I used the HBO app, it was to find movies.

Here’s the shift: Instant access definitely favors episodic television. It took me a long time to make this transition, though, and I still plan to watch the new Star Wars movie this December. It’s not like I’m giving up on Hollywood. And yet, I can tell that I’m a bigger fan now of a different format, one that encourages not just binge watching but, more importantly, lean-in entertainment.

What’s lean-in? It’s what we do on tablets and on a laptop. We engage differently, we use a different ergonomic pose. When I was watching The Night Of, I wasn’t on a couch. In fact, I haven’t watched any HBO Go shows in the living room, even though I know it’s easy (and cheap) to stream from my tablet to something like the Google Chromecast.

Usually, when I’m watching these shows, I’m either at a desk, a passenger in a car, sitting at the kitchen table, or even walking from one meeting to the next. There’s an incredible confluence taking place, a shift from the living room to anywhere. High-speed access, mobile gadgets, episodic television, multiple options for apps like Netflix and and a changing mindset about when, where, why, and how we consume entertainment.

This is not new. What's new is that lean-back entertainment has also shifted. One quick check at the reviews on RogerEbert.com reveals that movies have gone totally indie. Yes, there are the AAA tent-poles, but there’s been a dramatic shift away from the major releases in favor of a splintering. Movies have become more specific, television shows have become more entertaining. They are, in many ways, as well-produced with the best actors and set design as any Hollywood movie. Comparing Stranger Things to almost any recent indie film reveals that the Netflix show is much, much closer to a Spielberg film.

My theory is that the people making shows and movies know this. They have seen the data. They see that more people are watching Stranger Things than The Mechanic. And, HBO knows more people are watching their A-list crime drama than all of the archived films combined. (Maybe they even share this data, but I have yet to come across anything that looks reliable and concrete.)

That’s why, when I heard another rumor about a live action television show for Star Wars, I didn’t do an eye roll and a “yeah right” like I normally would. If ABC does make a show set in the Star Wars universe, there’s a good chance it could be as good or even better than Rogue Squadron. We have a different mindset. And, Disney already knows this. They see empty theaters and packed coffee-houses. They see data overage charges on AT&T thanks to The Night Of and they notice how even major theatrical movies like The BFG, Gods of Egypt, and Independence Day: Resurgence landed with a resounding thud. I’ve rented movies on Android and other platforms only to let the rental expire, but I’m hooked on several TV shows right now.

The tech shift is still underway, though. I know episodic shows have been around a while now, but there’s an even bigger shift in my own thought process: I’m not as into movies. For the longest time, I watched both. Now, I’m busy figuring out what to watch after The Night Of. Send your suggestions along and feel free to post a comment.

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