In the past going to the cinema was an occasion in the same way that going to the theatre was. Possibly this was due to the production standards of television, which were quite obviously inferior to those of film and the huge amount of care and attention that went into the whole production of the big screen experience. Knowing that you would have to wait for a year or more before the video version of the film hit the shops further heightened the sense of privilege in seeing the film in the cinema as well.
With the proliferation of much more affordable HD quality production equipment, we have seen a shift in production values over the last few years. It is now not just affordable but expected that film standards are also applied to television production as well. The high profile HBO/BBC joint project Band of Brothers was arguably one of the first television series to take this to a whole new level, applying blockbuster budgets, special FX, sets and casts to create a spectacle that had not been seen on that scale previously on the small screen. It has lead to a shift in the way television is viewed (if you excuse the pun) and opened eyes to the possibility of this type of production outside of the cinema. Now it isn’t even that actors have to decide to either be film actors or television actors, the lines are blurred more than ever.
Following the success of these early pioneers, the big networks have grasped the film approach with both hands. Series like Lost and Heroes were hugely successful and Sky have even launched a channel, Sky Atlantic, that seems largely dedicated to delivering this type of new programming. It is a welcome approach in a time where cinema is becoming so expensive that many of us cannot justify going, especially when in a matter of months we will be able to buy the DVD and watch the film at home on our high end home cinema system. As sad as it is, the occasion of the cinema seems to be something that is slowly fading away.
Today we have come to expect things when we demand them rather than having to fit in to someone else’s schedule. Home viewing and high quality television programming now provides us with the cinema experience at our convenience and comfort. Companies like Virgin and Sky have also spent a lot of time perfecting on demand viewing, recorded programming and most recently TiVo, meaning that TV schedules mean less and less to us. Is it inevitable that in a few years there will be programmes made that only exist on demand and do not appear in the schedules at all? Indeed, is the age of TV scheduling over?
I do not think it will be long before TV programming moves to a new age. It will be an age where channels exist completely agnostic of any sort of schedule at all, instead providing menus to access the type of programming you want to view, when you want to view it. New series will exist within the on demand network for periods of time for a viewer to watch when they like and where they like. They will be able to stream programming from their home network to their mobile devices when they are away from home. This would pave the way for films to be released not to cinema but to pay per view on demand television. If cinema doesn’t find a new way to exist then the only reason to go would be for the experience of watching on a huge screen, and does that even out weigh the sticky floors, annoying people and uncomfortable chairs when your sofa and home cinema system is so much more enjoyable?