What happened to family movie night?
Remember how grueling the family trip to Blockbuster was? Anything in the Action aisle was out of the question because your sister was too scared, your brother had already seen everything, and your mom ruined your life by asking the cute employee in the Linkin Park T-shirt just how PG-13 “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days” was. Picking a movie that would please the entire family was nothing short of a nightmare.
Luckily, those days are behind us. Gone is the agony of one screen per household. The North American home uses an average of seven connected devices each day. Alongside (and probably in part due to) the proliferation of household devices, we have witnessed an extreme saturation of the media market: there is an insurmountable library of content to consume. Current sensations such as Game of Thrones attract 9 million viewers at their peak; in the 1970s, popular sitcoms attracted 17 million viewers a week. With fewer options to choose from, families across America gathered around the same familiar characters and storylines.
But these days, there is something for everyone to watch, and a device for everyone to watch it on.
For those of us who remember the torment of the Blockbuster excursion, this luxury has become the norm. For our children, however, this is life. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, our children, practically born with an iPad in hand (in the UK, approximately a third of three year olds have their own tablet), are more tech and touch-screen savvy than we will ever be – and it shows in the way they consume content. As early as three and four years old, children know what they want to watch, and they know how to access it.
In response to the decline of cable TV and the death of the behemoth that was Blockbuster, younger generations have replaced the void with online time. Kids are individually seeking out streaming content, whether on Hulu, Netflix or, most popularly, YouTube. Our children, nimble and adaptive as they are, have readily adopted a pattern of consumption that is relatively new to the rest of us, one that has shifted away from the collective towards the individual.
Within the family unit, this means that family members enjoy autonomy of choice: Dad can watch the game live on TV, while mom sits next to him streaming Stranger Things on her iPad, and the kids are watching their favorite vlogs on repeat. Though tools like parental controls are still in effect, each family member has license to be curator of their own content.
On the one hand empowering and impressive, this individualization inevitably leads to isolation. There is something to be said for the Blockbuster bicker, for the torture of one screen per home. Shared family experiences are disappearing as parents and children retreat into their individual worlds of mystery, adventure, or YouTube sensations.
As a new generation of parents comes of age, their reaction (or lack thereof) to this changing family dynamic will illuminate whether the shift towards individual content consumption is a victory they champion, a problem they hope to solve, or simply the uncontested way of things. As millennials increasingly seek connection, wellness, and simplicity, it will come as no surprise if as parents, too, they will seek tools that help them to better connect, deepen relationships, and simplify life within the home.
There is no turning back the clock on the advances of technology or its proliferation within households. Most recently we see an entirely new breed of device, as companies like Google, Amazon, and eventually Apple and Facebook, introduce AI devices that not only provide you with what you’d like to watch – but know when to play it for you, and will have dinner delivered to your front door before you start.
Increasingly, these brands are bridging the gap between software and hardware, providing tools that offer not only the content people want, but also the means by which to access it. As devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo continue to infiltrate the market and evolve, is this shifting dynamic one to keep in mind? Should these brands consider playing a role in bridging gaps between the family members behind their devices?
- Article by Eden Dotan