The Silver Screen Gets Small; Many of Us Watch Whole Movies on Smartphones

by , Dec 30, 2013, 2:50 PM
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The rationale seems plausible to me. Supposing you have the normal assortment of video screen sizes, it would seem you’d use the biggest ones for viewing that is very involving and/or very long. Very big, in other words. But apparently, that’s not as true as my logical ticker says it should be.     

E-marketer is citing research from Digitalsmiths that says, yes, North American Internet users mostly watch news content (42%) or movie and TV preview videos (36%) on smartphones.

But what’s surprising to sticks-in-the-digital-mud like me is that 30.9% of respondents say they watched full-length movies on their phones, and 27% who watched TV show reruns. That comes in slightly ahead of the crowd who used their smartphone to watch sports highlights (26.3%). Supposedly, 10.8% used a smartphone to watch sporting events and 10.7% to watch live events. (I really doubt that one. What live events?)

I always like to find some deeper meaning in stats like these beyond fighting the suspicion people didn’t understand the question. The real fact might be that yes, indeed, that’s how consumers use their smartphones, once in a while, because they’re on a bus, or wasting time in an airport, or otherwise just filling time. By law, as you know, time can’t be spent without audio or video filling it up.

But I’d still bet that watching long-form video on a smartphone is no one’s first choice.   

Then again—here comes the theory—maybe the idea of a movie isn’t such a big deal anymore. We’ve taken them from Palaces to cinemas the size of pillboxes to cassettes and DVRs we watch in our underwear.

And then, it became it increasingly easy for us to make our own movies and even get them seen, on YouTube if nothing else.

So watching them on a screen the size of a Chunky bar is not a jarring juxtaposition.  In “Sunset Blvd.” cynical, broke Joe Gillis meets former silent movie star Norma Desmond and exclaims “You used to be big.” She replies, very famously, I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”   

Maybe there’s something to that.  Some of them have become down right microscopic.

But if we binge and snack on video, there’s a good chance that many of us, at least occasionally, brunch on it too.

Maybe there’s a business in that for some video content provider that could deftly cut movies into perfectly compacted pieces, so that, say, in a week of lunch breaks, you could see a whole movie. (For 25 cents a day, my junior high school auditorium provided this service back when serial was a word applied to things other than killers.)  

But the more urgent use of data like this might be for filmmakers and studios and networks who might want to examine how they frame shots. If it’s really true a sizable and growing number of consumers are watching lengthy videos on smartphones, it’s time to dust off and update another classic  Norma Desmond line:  “All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up. My extreme close-up.”    

pj@mediapost.com   

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