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The Future of Streaming - Second Screen or Second Rate?

‘‘It isn’t second screen enough’’ is a line that Marina Hyde, journalist, script writer and columnist for English newspaper The Guardian, quoted on Instagram as what showrunners often receive as feedback from streaming channels these days.

The future of streaming, is it second screen enough?

Considering the growing popularity and influence on the Hollywood industry of films and series created by streaming channels, we should ask ourselves what we want the future of streaming platform’s originals to look like - or if we bother enough to really pay attention to their productions.

What Is ‘Second Screen’?

Second screening’ refers to the phenomenon of people being expected to play a movie or series while simultaneously being on their phone or other digital device - the second screen -  that absorbs their attention. 

Consequently, important details in a film or series, like the names of the characters or the key plot details, would have to be repeated multiple times throughout the production to assure the audience actually gets them. That being the case, stories shouldn’t be made too complicated as this increases the risk of ‘second screeners’ losing the storyline.

Zoning Out During Streaming Channel’s Entertainment

A reel posted by @restisentertainment, an instagram page for the podcast by Marina Hyde and author Richard Osman, contemplated the impact of short attention spans on film and TV shows on Hollywood productions. 

‘‘When you think how much it costs to make one of these things and what you’re saying is, ‘Yeah, you’re sort of competing with someone’s social media account, they’re going to have half an ear and half an eye on you (...)’, that is super depressing’’, is what Hyde points out.

Apart from that, it’s also valid to question on what sources streaming channels base the argument that films and series should become more ‘second screen’. In view of the current digital age, it is easy to be exposed to non nuanced information and data or to fall into a tunnel vision. Consequently, it naturally becomes difficult to find a distinct truth to base something as fundamental as a production strategy on.

Marina Hyde and Richard Osman on The Rest is Entertainment, it isn't second screen enough
Marina Hyde and Richard Osman on The Rest is Entertainment

Myth of The Short Attention Span

All references to a ‘short attention span’ lead back to a report by the Microsoft Canada Consumer Insights team in 2015. However, listed sources - including the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the US National Library of Medicine -  expressed to BBC that they cannot find any record of research that backs up the statistics regarding the ‘short attention span’ in Microsoft’s report. 

Dr Gemma Briggs, Professor of Applied Cognitive Psychology at the Open University, explains that "How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much on what the individual brings to that situation". She specifies that expectations based on what normally happens in given situations, in combination with personal experience, shape how we process information and what we see at any given time.

fish and laptop, small attention span

Quality Over Quantity in Storytelling

On the other side of the coin of making a film or series ‘more second screen’ it could be argued that if a production is engaging enough, the audience wants to pay full attention to what is happening. When we for example think about seeing the Titanic striking the iceberg in the eponymous movie by James Cameron, there’s little chance we’d prefer to check our phone instead of discovering if the characters of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio will survive the tragedy.  

The reason why we turn to films and series in the infinity of storytelling is because of the emotional connection we can feel when we watch them, and the possibility to stretch our imagination or to see our imagination being brought to life. By adding a note to the objective of these creative productions to make them ‘less complicated’ is limiting their possibilities.

As for the future of both the Hollywood industry and the streaming platform’s originals, the essence of storytelling is what catches people’s attention. Because when we think of the reason a story is told in the first place, it never has to do with the hope that it is simple enough for the people it’s shared with: it simply comes down to that it’s a story worth telling.

black and white photo, film projector


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