Streamers, zoomers and the end game to eyeballing content

Rob has the scene on easy-to-retrieve play back. You know, when Jax Teller returns home to find his wife murdered and lets out that haunting guttural cry. From Sons of Anarchy, 13 Reasons Why, and then Gotham, it’s all in weeks binge on Netflix.

This week could however signify Rob’s viewing habits bending elsewhere in the near future. A new streaming giant is being mooted that may dwarf Netflix. AT&T, the US telecoms giant, it’s believed will hive of its Warner Media arm to get into bed with Disney to create a network that envelops the might of Hollywood’s studios. New competition abounds and the more original and innovative stories will be hunted down.

In Rob’s viewing habits there’s not a scintilla of news programming; it’s not relevant and if anything for Rob’s generation it’s boring.

I’d rather watch a film of a new event than the actual news on television, said Wendy, a 24-year old Masters student.

Streamers will control Rob’s eye balls, whilst news programmers flush their content past him. This week a TV station in Europe with news as part of its bouquet of programmes was also looking to the future. They invited me to present to them.

“What if Netflix and HBO did news?,” I asked over a comprehensive presentation that lasted an hour and a half, backed by figures, trend extrapolation and doctoral research.

Why on earth would Netflix, HBO or Disney do this? Simply, because firstly it’s the one piece of genre content that’s eluding them. Secondly it’s teaming with drama. Thirdly there’s money to be made and influence, despite news making often being a loss leader. And fourthly, they are time entrepreneurs. They know how to play the long game and massage time and people’s attention.

But importantly if they did, it would be news, not as you know it. Imagine news of airspace incursions, or under water conflicts as fishermen from the UK and France clash over fishing rights as they did in Jersey last week. Imagine too if Hollywood directors made news. Here I talk about Stephen Soderbergh.

It’s not a hypothetical question. In Five Came Back cinema became central to news making. Hollywood greats in George Stevens, Frank Capra, John Ford, William Wyler and John Huston made news films and documentaries that wooed audiences. Television news as we know it today hadn’t been invented. But when it did the executives framing it had a stark choice.

Follow cinema or reinvent the wheel, a different wheel at that. On its own, television news, I explained to the audience, was a brilliant piece of storytelling engineering, but firstly it stripped itself of an approach to turn events into reality cinema through ‘real film making’. Listen to Francis Ford Coppola in the trailer above. Secondly, in its present form it’s outstayed its welcome.

There have been four concerted epochal attempts since the 1960s to situate cinema into journalism starting with Robert Drew and cinema verite. Then in the 1990s in my research, I showed audience that there was another attempt, followed by 2005 and finally this year, 2021 — a profound breakthrough. I’ve written about this in previous posts.

Drew spoke about his disappointment in an interview I had with him. News execs took his equipment but not his techniques. In 94, several youngsters who were part of the UK’s first videojournalist also had a crack at it. Amongst them was someone who years later would demo a form of cinema and journalism that would earn his a BAFTA and an Oscar nominee.

In 2005 I was asked to train the UK’s first newspaper journalist. From the first set emerged the film 8 Days heralding cinema journalism, captured in this press gazette article write up.

That Hungarian or Neorealism cinema was never go to cut it on terrestrial television and certainly not with newspapers wedded to the legacy of news making laid down by the likes of the BBC, NBC and CBS. But recap from above what a former senior BBC personnel says. Cat? That got your attention.

All the while that a cinema praxis has emerged to inform audiences, like the reception Robert Drew garnered from news executives, attempts at a cinema journalism style have been scuppered. Not anymore. That won’t be the case for streamers and the TV station I addressed.

Its pros are many fold. Showing on Netflix is Nomadland, Chloe Zhao’s Oscar winning film of the underbelly of America’s broken capitalist system. It is in the way its shot a prime example of how a cinema journalist would create a piece of reality.

One of the features in streamers is to search and play fresh material. As a cinema journalist we could, like my TV host, be on to something.

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah has more than thirty years working in media. He’s an academic at Cardiff University and the lead organiser of their Future of Journalism summit. More on him here

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.