Further Evidence That Feature Length Films Are In Decline?

According to data released on July 12th, 2012, subscribers increasingly say they pay for a Netflix subscription to access TV shows - and not for streaming feature length films.

The percentage of subscribers who say they use Netflix to stream movies has been dropping - from 53 percent in 2011 to 47 percent in 2012.

Instead of feature length movies, Netflix subscribers increasingly say they subscribe to watch - at the time they choose and without commercials - TV shows.

This self-reporting by subscribers is borne out by actual viewing numbers: According to Netflix 60% of total Netflix viewing hours are spent on television shows, compared with only 40% for movies.

This lop-sided trend in consumer behavior (toward streaming of time-shifted TV and away from feature length films) may just be a temporary anomaly: After all, some people are still renting feature length films on Netflix. But Netflix's original reputation was built almost 100% on feature length films: In April 1998 Netflix offered 925 titles for rent, almost all were feature length films, and at the time "that comprised nearly the entire catalogue of DVDs in print." Could today's numbers be a sign of an internet-driven transition away from longer form filmed entertainment?

It's probably too soon to publish an obituary for the feature length film. But, any indie filmmaker counting on Netflix as a significant revenue source for their feature length film may want to have a really solid Plan B.

And anyone in Hollywood relying on feature length films as their primary revenue source - e.g., hoping that the market for spec scripts will revive or that the current (internet) storm will pass and features will roar back without significant changes - may want to look more closely at Netflix.

In less than 15 years of existence, Netflix has switched revenue models more than once (remember rental DVDs of feature length films in red envelopes distributed through the mail?). Now it seems Netflix is becoming a streaming service for TV shows. If feature length indie films are losing market share in theaters and online - where exactly will the audience (and money) come from in the future?

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