Much like having a music collection on mp3 instead of vinyl or reams of eBooks in your library, watching movies on a smartphone is anathema to cinema buffs – if you’re not willing to sit with your feet rooted in a popcorn and soda mire to see the latest blockbuster, why bother? However, it’s something that happens with increasing regularity.
A quarter of US people (24%) surveyed by 451 Research indicated that they view TV shows or movies on their mobile phone every day. And, while a larger proportion (36%) said that they had never used their phone as a surrogate TV, it’s the former demographic that’s growing. Viewing on mobile is now more popular than watching on desktop, and advertisers are shifting their focus to portable devices as a consequence; mobile ad budgets climbed 80.6% in 2015 alone.
But what’s the appeal of smartphone video? While there’s an obvious compromise in the social aspects, screen size and battery life, watching Netflix (for example) on a mobile is arguably easier, less expensive, and more comfortable than going to the cinema. Google Play and iTunes allow for nearly instantaneous payments through their respective mobile operating systems too.
Versatile payment options are an underrated benefit for consumers. While contactless cards have made forking over your life savings at the snack counter much simpler, online outlets tend to be more flexible when it comes to money. For example, movies on iTunes can be bought or rented (from about £3.99) with Alipay and PayPal.
In the wider entertainment industry, options like Skrill and even payments by phone bill are taking off. For example, mFortune, a company that offers slots and casino games including a thematic Sherlock Holmes slot, lets customers use their phone bill to make deposits for mobile slots so that they can defer the cost of their games until the end of the month. It’s a niche option, admittedly, but it does streamline the process of paying for entertainment on smartphones.
Naturally, filmmakers have their own opinions about the growing popularity of smartphones as a medium for movie watching – some of them negative. Spike Lee called it “heartbreaking”, George Lucas was apathetic, while David Lynch, between expletives, summed up popular Hollywood sentiment of the portable experience in a few words: “if you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film.”
Here’s the thing though; inclusive of DVD sales, the movie industry is forecast to grow worldwide by $2-3bn every year to 2020, according to Statista, so the growth in mobile use and the existence of cinema are almost mutually exclusive things as far as revenue is concerned. Movies aren’t a dying art and Hollywood isn’t facing oblivion. The question Lee, Lynch, and Lucas want answering is one of experience – is the physical act of going to the cinema and “feeling” the film a modern dinosaur?
Visits to physical cinemas are falling – 2016 was one of the worst years in history for Hollywood – but technologies like virtual reality (VR) headsets are a new paradigm for immersive experiences and could prove a boon for cinema in the long run, especially if theatres can offer an exclusive, IMAX-style product. The reverse may also be true though; VR is a great excuse not to leave the house after all.