Chris McGurk: Tailor Content to the Way Young Viewers Watch It, or Be Prepared to Fail

Chris McGurk
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This column is part of Variety’s Broken Hollywood feature. For more execs and their opinions on the state of Hollywood, click here.

Hollywood needs to wake up to the idea that there’s been a permanent change in viewing habits by younger audiences or the economic model for movie studios and broadcasters is going to be at risk. Kids have grown up accustomed to viewing content differently than their parents and grandparents did, and consequently there’s going to be a fundamental shift away from seeing movies in theaters.

This behavior has changed radically over the last 10 years, and all of it has been brought on by digital technology both in the distribution of content and in viewing devices like iPhones, iPads and PCs that millennials are used to. The younger you
go, the more the audience wants to see content not in theaters but at home on a device of their choice. All of the research shows they want to see content in shorter bites and that they like to binge-view. That says that the old rules that Hollywood applied in terms of launching a film in theaters before going to pay TV and then to video or DVD are crumbling. It does not bode well for the exhibition business or the traditional motion picture business.

Millennials have this connected social experience when they’re on the Web. They’re watching people play videogames on YouTube, while they’re talking to 10 or 15 friends on chat or texting back and forth. The technology is allowing these kids to have the communal experience people talk about when they reference movie theaters. And the type of content they watch is different from overproduced Hollywood content. It’s one step up from user-generated, and it looks more authentic to them.

“American Sniper” was a great movie, and the studio was able to turn that into an event. People will still go see great movies in theaters if that’s the only place they can access them and be part of the conversation, but the margin for error is smaller, and the bar for success becomes that much higher.

The smart talent is beginning to look at the world and see how things have changed. Their goal is get access to the biggest audience. It’s not all about theatrical. It’s VOD or pay TV. It’s how do I get the most eyeballs to see my labor of love.