I recently participated in another podcast of Are You Not Entertained by Remy X, in which we discussed the present difficulties of the movie industry (among others).  Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, movie and stage theaters are closed nationwide while people shelter at home and avoid crowds, and movie producers are sitting on revenue-making motion pictures that have no theaters in which to be played. And now, 2021 is expecting many movies to be released on streaming TV services and only some expected to reach the theaters that have weathered the storm of 2020.

Obviously no one could have predicted this situation, caused by our complete inability to deal with a global health crisis no one could have anticipated or been prepared for. /sarcasticRant  But in a way, the struggles being experienced by theaters and movie producers should not be completely unexpected, since this represents a point in the natural evolution of the entertainment industry.

Simply put, entertainment has constantly evolved, from its campfire story and cave drawing roots to the multiple live and digital venues and global conglomerates we have today.  The theater industry in particular has evolved over a century, presenting us with moving pictures, developing voices, emerging with color, and trying many gimmicky tricks over the years to build its popularity and fight off the advance of new mediums like television.  Many of its efforts have been successful, some have not.  But ultimately, in an industry as volatile and susceptible to outside influences as entertainment, it should be expected that, eventually, theater will fall out of favor and have to evolve in order to continue, or whither away.

home theater

The pressures of the pandemic happen to be one of those outside influences, damaging the prospects and future of the theater industry while at the same time bolstering the growth of other home-based entertainment systems.  If the pressure continues for too long, it could finish theaters; they’d be forced to shut down, sell their buildings and let some new industry adapt them to some other use.  And if not this, sooner or later something else will cause the shift away from theaters, in favor of some other delivery platform, whether it be television, stored content on computers, broadcast through gaming platforms, casting from phones, immersive equipment, direct-to-brainpan uploads, or something we can scarcely imagine today.

This is called progress.  It’s the most significant natural byproduct of a technological society, and it can be suppressed, but never fully subdued.

And yes, it’s hard on the technology that must evolve to keep up, like theaters have been doing for the past century.  But the bright side is that it usually brings new and interesting changes to the industry in question, in its efforts to survive; and when it reaches the limit of improvement, it’s usually replaced with something better in some or all ways.  We always hope the experience won’t be too traumatic, and there will always be aspects of the old technology that many will miss; but either immediately or eventually, people accept and get used to the new technology, and we move on.  In fact, there have been few technologies that haven’t eventually bent to the will of progress over time.

I’ve often wondered if one of the oldest of technologies, the almighty printed book, could someday disappear, to be ultimately replaced by some existing or as yet unimagined media or delivery system.  It’s one reason why I, in contemplating the future of my novels, considered the likelihood that their future won’t be in physical book form, but in some other media… ebooks, audiobooks, games, screenplays, mnemonic injections, quark-streams or gravitic pulses in amber, I don’t know.

I also wonder if my choice of media hindered their success; maybe I should have chosen audiobooks instead of novels, or perhaps written them as screenplays instead of traditional narratives.  I’ve rewritten one of my novels as a screenplay; given its length, it ended up as a miniseries length, but it proved that I could do it.  I personally can’t imagine doing an audiobook, but if I find myself with time in the future (nyuk, nyuk), I may rewrite other books as screenplays, and any future stories of mine may go straight to script.

tablet viewingIt’s not an easy choice; it can be incredibly hard to guess which technology will work out, or how.  (Revisit James Burke’s Connections series for refreshers.)  Tech can be embraced by the world either through acceptance or by necessity, as influences like pandemics can force a choice over the whims of popular opinion.  Ultimately, the evolution of technology isn’t always up to us; and even the best of work can fail if technology has moved on and left the work (or its creator) behind.

While we might expect medical technology to give us a solution to the pandemic, we probably didn’t imagine a health crisis would threaten the future of the entertainment industry.  Will theaters mostly ride it out… or will this be the crisis that forces them to evolve again or finally die?  And what other unsuspecting areas of technology will be impacted by this surprise health issue?  Only time—and progress—will tell.