Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I'll be in my Trailer

Over the weekend I discovered the awe inspiring power of on demand television. I had been reading about the various content delivery empires that each of the studios had been archtecting in "The Big Picture". Having never ordered any on demand services, I really had no concept of how mature the service was or how far along the on demand operators actually were.

And then I visited my uncle's house this weekend.

It was awesome. HBO on demand lets you watch the entire lineup of movies scheduled for that month PLUS all the series HBO has any time you feel like pulling them up. We even watched the starz bunny movies in 30 seconds. Their entire cable subscription included 3 on-demand boxes (one of which is a DVR) and high speed cable internet all for just over 100 bucks. And HD is an option for just a little bit more.

I had no idea.

Having all this content had me feeling overwhelmed, and the reason is illustrated perfectly by the fact that one box had a DVR and On Demand. I realize that the DVR is probably meant to record the content that is not available on demand, but isn't a DVR On-demand combo a little redundant? Isn't the point of both devices exactly the same: to control when and how you access content? How would you choose which one to use, and more importantly, how do you choose what you watch?

As I've noticed with my own Tivo, my viewing habits have totally altered my ability to stay abreast of popular TV. It's the classic difference between push and pull models of viewing. Before, TV was pushed onto me. I got home at a certain time, so I watched what was on, and it helped shape my interests and stay on top of what was going to come on next or in the next weeks. Now, I pull what I want off the tivo, which makes catching things I want infinitely more convenient, and I can skip the commercials (for other shows as well as commercial productS) to get to the stuff I came to see. But I've noticed, after a while, that after a while, I stop knowing what to watch at all. It's not that there isn't stuff on TV that I would like, I just don't know it's going to be on.

And what if you're a baby right now, growing up in the Tivo Generation. How will you ever know what to watch when your exposure is limited to what ends up on tivo or DVR?

Arguably, we've always been limited to what the networks (or our parents) thought was appropriate to show us on TV, but that only reinforces my point, that we're at a stage with our content availability that we need to take more deliberate steps to help viewers sort out what they'll enjoy.

I was thinking a good first step would be to proliferate audio-visual samples and summaries of the available content (i.e. trailers). But one problem with trailers is that a bad one will ruin the movie before you see it, or may not even express why certain people would want to watch a movie.

So what if people were able to cut their own trailers and share them?

Essentially it would be taking a page from the "new media" which offers a near-perfect analog. The idea of blogs and amateur news coverage is that while no individual source will be particularly accurate, the body of blogging work should provide complete coverage for a variety of perspectives and approach perfect accuracy across the collective by representing so many viewpoints.

If people who actually saw a movie and enjoyed it were able to cut trailers that were designed to compel people to enjoy the same parts that they did, we might not have to suffer the terrible misleading trailers that are designed to attract the lowest common denominator audience. Sure, there would be a lot of crappy trailers floating around (just like there are crappy blogs) but the good ones would be even more accessible to the actual watchers of content than good blogs that recommend the content would be.

Some intriguing side notes:

-If you hated a movie, you could even make a trailer that showcased the parts that you think might make people not want to watch it. I'm no advocate of parental controls, but you could cut a trailer that showed the explcit violence or sex in a movie that made you uncomfortable to serve as a counterpoint to the trailers that celebrate a movie.

-It would make the quality of a movie measurable in a much more meaningful way. If you could keep track of how a moviegoer got to a movie, you could also keep track of how many people liked it that came from that source/trailer. The results would be much richer than the plain box office success which could be affected by everything from false advertising, to national disasters to the holiday season. You could localize people's enjoyment of a movie to particular elements.

-While the film makers have a right (or perhaps even an obligation) to follow through on displaying a film according to their vision of the story, the public success of the film ultimately lies in the reception of the audience. Just like great works of literature, great films can be interpreted in many ways, perhaps some that the director or writer did not forsee or even intend. But they touch those chords with people nonetheless. If having a variety of critical reviews can help guide readers to great literature, a variety of promotional trailers would certainly help guide all the interested movie goers to a film that they would enjoy. Not just the ones that the director anticipates would enjoy the movie. It would be putting the success of the film in the hands of the people who really have the power to enjoy the film and thus make it successful.