Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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4 Must Watch Director's Commentaries - Even if You're Not a Film Geek

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Baseball Broadcasts: Behind the Scenes

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Double-Edged Sword of High Quality Television and Film

Feb 05 2013 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

To be sure I'm 100% clear, nothing in this article should be taken as encouragement to decrease the quality of one's content creation - but rather as an encouragement to change one's viewing habits.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive…

But, despite being the solid long-term approach, having the best content may actually hurt your viewership numbers in the short-term.

I’ll give you a personal example.

FOX’s Touch: A Stellar Recommendation Still Languishing

Touch Season 2 Premieres this Friday, February 8th on FOXLast year in May, a very close friend of mine recommended that I start watching FOX’s then somewhat new show, Touch. At the time, much of season one was available on Hulu (now only accessible with Hulu Plus).

Now to be clear, this friend is the type whose recommendations cannot go easily ignored. We not only share almost the exact same list of favorite movies, but have historically rank-ordered any set of films nearly the same – even liking or disliking them for the same reasons.

(In fact, when I find I like or dislike a film and can’t figure out why, I just ask this person why – sounds stupid, but works every time)

So, fast-forward to eight and a half months later: It’s now February, Touch Season 2 premieres later this week, and to be completely honest, I’ve still only seen 3 or 4 episodes from season one.

I don’t watch all that much episodic television, but I’ve absolutely loved all the Touch episodes I’ve seen so far. It’s easily my favorite episodic television show since season one of NBC’s Heroes (on second thought, maybe it’s even better than that), which in turn has been my favorite show since FOX’s The X-Files in the early 90s.

Touch Season 2 Premieres this Friday, February 8th on FOX

Touch Season 2 Premieres this Friday, February 8th on FOX

why haven’t I seen more of the show?

I can’t remember what episode I was listening to, but it was sometime last summer when I heard David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, and Adam Quigley devote quite a bit of their podcast, the /Filmcast, to a discussion about the quality of the material they choose to watch from their Netflix queue.

Contrary to what you might assume, the general consensus was that the better the film or movie, the longer it spent in the queue before they actually sat down and watched it.

Why?

It’s human psychology. Oftentimes you’re just using Netflix for background noise. You fill up your queue with content, but skip over the best content because you want to save it for the best time:

You save the best content for when you actually want to (and can) fully devote two hours to it uninterrupted.

In today’s fast paced world, that seems like a big commitment – and as a culture, it’s one we don’t make as often as we think.

Hence why I still haven’t finished Touch Season One in time for Season 2, despite how much I’m looking forward to it (I’ve watched an entire season of Revolution, Ancient Aliens, and who-knows-what-else instead – not that any of these are bad, but they are my second favorites).

Usually, when we do opt to devote two hours to a “better” or more serious film, we spend that time at the movie theater instead of at Hulu, Netflix, or Redbox.

That is, we’ll often more readily watch Robots Fight Monkeys: The Sequel Reloaded than Schindler’s List (1993) – even though we are looking forward to seeing Schindler’s List a lot more.

It’s not true of only movies and television. For instance, I probably have more web browser tabs open than items in my Hulu queue (we’re talking hundreds here…admit it – you do it too).

I deal with the pertinent ones first, then move on to the less pressing ones. But with the latter half, I save the ones I expect to be best for last (including the one I wrote about here, which lasted a month) For the “high energy, high devotion” times, that is.

This is So Common, You Don’t Realize It Happening Every Day

The classic shot used to demonstrate Orson Wells pioneering use of deep focus in Citizen Kane (1941)It’s well-known that every fim student claims to have seen the critically-acclaimed and ground-breaking Citizen Kane (1941).

It’s also commonly accepted that half of them are lying (they’ve even done an actual survey on this phenomenon – turns out, The Godfather [1972] is a better example).

I saw Citizen Kane at least 2 or 3 times just during film school alone (no, really, I did…), but it’s easy to see how the same “Netflix Queue” phenomenon could cause this statistic.

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There are other ways being “good” or “popular” can work against you.

I had a professor back in film school who still hasn’t watched a single installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy to this day – simply because “there’s too much hype” surrounding the franchise. I know others who are doing the same for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012).

You or I might think he’s missing out, but I can emphasize to some extent. I refuse to watch James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) for the same reason. Similarly, I despised Pokémon – but adored the less popular Digimon. And yes, I even hated Star Wars based solely on its hype until I actually saw it…if you know me, this seems like a very big deal.

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It’s even built into the system. If you’ve ever made an effort to watch all the Oscar nominated films before the Academy’s award ceremony, you know that it can be a hard thing to do.

Regardless of how you feel about the Academy’s picks each year, these films unarguably have a huge amount of critical appeal and thus are all considered high quality and popular within the right circles.

It may be hard to find Amour showtimes at a theater near you...And yet, many have limited releases or are otherwise exceedingly hard to find (you know this if you’ve been trying to catch a screening of Amour [2012] near you – despite the fact it was nominated in more categories than most other nominees).

There’s a plethora of shorts and feature documentaries to be seen online for free (which produces great exposure for countless professionals), but you rarely find the ones the Academy nominates without paying a fair sum of money (these are currently showing theatrically in the ShortsHD package if you happen to live in a major city). So, somewhat counter-intuitively, viewership for these works actually decreases short-term.

These are just some of the perils of high quality content that are a barrier to the content creator reaching his or her maximum exposure.

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It’s not all bad of course. Your content may have a lower “conversion rate,” so to speak, but you’ll be attracting more people to begin with and will be able to command higher prices, when applicable.

Also note, content we feel we must view live (such as televised sporting events) doesn’t suffer from the same trends, as we make time for it when it first airs.

So, if you’re a media creator, keep the high quality coming and strive to raise the bar with every new thing you produce.

If you’re a consumer (that means everyone), try to put aside some extra time to watch something you know will be satisfying, particularly if you’ve been putting it of for a while. (I know this can be hard, so I’ll be putting up a followup article later in the week with some tips to help – sign up for email updates if you don’t want to miss it).


Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.


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