Why can you only watch short movies anymore?

The desire for consumption, fast entertainment and the fatigue of everyday life transform the way in which we enjoy the audiovisual.

“Night after night, although I can choose anything in the world to watch, I always end up looking for the same thing: a short movie (of balls).” This is how the comedian Pete Davidson starts the viral ‘sketch’ of Saturday night Live that millions of people around the world have seen and has even convinced Netflix to create a specific category for 90-minute movies.

Although the Pete Davidson thing is just a joke, there is a lot of truth to it. Because it’s not just that we don’t want to anymore, it’s that we can’t even be in front of the television for much longer. A study by the Technical University of Denmark published in 2019 shows that collective attention span is shrinking due to the amount of information being presented to the public. The FOMO syndrome -the acronym ‘fear of missing out’ or ‘fear of missing something’ in Spanish- that has been talked about so much lately is real and also affects the way we consume movies and series.

“Content is increasing in volume, straining our attention spans and our drive for ‘novelty’ making us collectively switch between topics more quickly,” says University of Denmark study author and theoretical physics expert Philipp Lorenz. -Spreen, from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, who has investigated the collective dynamics of attention conditioned by social networks.

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That feeling you have of not being able to keep up with everything is not the product of your imagination. There are more and more streaming platforms and each one of them releases dozens of movies and series every week – Netflix, for example, about 80 movies a month – which in turn have different seasons each with a batch of chapters about to see. This endless audiovisual Matrioska is generating changes in our way of consuming. We no longer patiently enjoy what we see on the screenbut we devour a movie – even at double speed, since the platforms offer this functionality – and, before finishing, we are going for the next one.

The desire to consume: see something that entertains me to move on to something else

“The way viewers consume has absolutely changed. The public has become anxious about their consumption. Reducing the duration of the films is the way to get them to consume even more,” says Mercedes Medina, PhD in Communication , expert in audiovisual consumption trends, and full professor of Journalism at the University of Navarra. “They are bombarding you with premieres every three minutes in streaming, which generates the feeling that you have to see everything, but of course, you do not have time for it”adds Juan Carlos Jiménez, Professor of Sociology at CEU San Pablo University.

The solution is to see it in the lightest and most superficial way possible. Series and movies are increasingly adapting to this idea of ​​extremely fast consumption and even faster forgetting. And that has a lot to do with the idea of ​​a liquid society, the postmodern society in which we live”, Jiménez continues.

The CEU professor speaks of a society based on individualism, where the temporary prevails, and is unstable and changing. Everything in our environment has an expiration date and the desire for renewal reigns. Spectators have been implanted with that anxiety to consume that leaves aside the enjoyment of the work itself and the blame comes from those mammoth catalogs that do not stop growing on the different streaming platforms. “The concept of audience has been lost. The important thing is how many subscriptions there are and, therefore, fill the platform”points out Ángel Quintana, professor of History and Theory of Cinema at the University of Girona.

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Accessibility to streaming platforms vs. the theater show

Streaming has democratized household access to movies, and while this is a good thing, it also has side effects. The first is that we give less value to what we consume from home. Video on demand services have the advantage that “they reach practically all homes, but there is also the disadvantage that they remove any voluntary dimension. Watching TV or Netflix is ​​almost involuntary. You have it there and you see the first thing there is,” says Juan Carlos Jiménez. As we have it at our fingertips, the value of what we are seeing is diluted. And it does not help at all that we can pause the film whenever we want to go to the bathroom, have a drink from the kitchen or check the mobile phone with its constant notifications.

Frame from season 2 of ‘The Bridgertons’, Netflix’s undoubted success.

That our ability to concentrate has changed “is not an opinion, it is evidence”, as the professor at the University of Navarra puts it, “the attention span has been greatly reduced and I see it in the classroom. The student is not capable of following a 45-minute class, or rather, is capable of following it, but it is an absolutely fragmented attention, shared with other activitiesAccording to data from Emotion Research LAB, a company specializing in neuromarketing, our attention span has been reduced by up to 50% in the last 20 years.

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While at home we demand entertaining and short content that does not require too much attention and effort, the opposite effect occurs in movie theaters. batman (2022) lasts almost three hours, dunes (2021) is two and a half hours, no time to die (2021) two hours and 43 minutes, Fast and Furious 9 (2021) two hours and 23 minutes. Why?

All of them are a cinematographic spectacle that has cost a lot of time, money and effort to make and its theatrical release is practically an event. Just as we do not value what we see at home, when we manage to get off the couch to go see something on the big screen, we do it for a good cause.. That is, great special effects and shocking scenes. It is almost like a return to the origins of cinema as an attraction, the same as that experienced with the films of Mélies or Segundo de Chomón.

Blockbusters are a cinema of attractions and any visual attraction, be it a car chase, a science fiction visual effects session or a musical number, needs to be showcased. For example, in a Marvel movie, the final fight scene is full of great artifice and, if this costs so many millions, it needs to be noticed, ”says Quintana, professor of History and Theory of Cinema

What is evident is that the dynamics of audiovisual consumption are changing radically. And that is beginning to be noticed also in movie theaters, where music shows are also being accommodated. For example, last March one of the highest-grossing films in Spain was BTS Permission to Dance on Stagea concert by the famous Korean band BTS.

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The film director Álex de la Iglesia spoke about it in a recent interview with SensaCinema where he explained that one of his dreams was to set up a cinema: “Imagine that a movie can only be seen in a cinema and that it is ours. For example, you order a film from Pathos with the requirement that it be a brutal scandal but that it not generate any problem because it will only be seen in our cinema”, the director fabricated. “I would like to put on shows, in which you close the street, and the public disappears and there is a mentalism show, for example. You have to think strategies and innovate. It consists of turning the act of cinema into a pure spectaclelet it be a palace of terror for example, and with a merchandising store, even ”, concludes the director.

So, the situation is summarized as follows. Going to the cinema to see a movie is an extraordinary event because we prefer to enjoy the comfort of home, but at home, between mobile phones, stops to go to the bathroom and the fatigue of everyday life, we opt for quick things that simply entertain. The artistic pleasure of the seventh art has been abandoned for pure entertainment and the more the better. It is the portrait of a society where nothing lasts and the ephemeral prevails.

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