Kudos to Sonos (disclosure, a sometimes client) for taking a big stand this week pre-Grammy’s. That’s their website artwork at the beginning of this post, and this week, they closed their NYC and online stores to support Net Neutrality, and took out big ads in the NYT and WSJ (and many social media posts) in support of it as well. I hope some people in the film world do the same, and soon, but it also reminded me to post this little bit about the impact of recent net-neutrality decisions on the future of film.
I’ve been writing about the importance of Net Neutrality since I started blogging in January of 2006. There’ve been many close calls since that time, and many decisions that those close to these issues considered likely precursors to the end of net neutrality, but 2017 brought the official end of net neutrality, and it’s not hyperbole to say it’s the beginning of the end of the Net as we’ve known it. The changes will be gradual and practically imperceptible, but very real. We’ll wake up one day and find a very different internet unless we take some pretty radical steps, and soon.
But what does this mean for film in the short term? You can expect more deals to privilege certain content over others – get Netflix or Verizon Go90 or whatever other content faster and cheaper. That will be good for consumers when you want to watch stuff on the big guys – Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, etc. But it also means it will be that much harder for people like Fandor or Mubi to get traction, and even harder for new services to launch, as the costs to deliver quickly to consumers will become hurdles too high. That may not seem too bad, but as Netflix and Amazon buy/license less indie and arthouse fare, these alternate services are crucial to those wanting to find and watch the multitudes of films not on these larger services. And those viewers wanting to experiment might be discouraged when a “Classic,” or “experimental” focused service is slower to load or costs much more to access.
It will also mean less relevant alternatives like Vimeo, and over time, fewer opportunities for truly independent work to reach an audience. Right now, if your film doesn’t get picked up by one of the major services, you can always fall back to using a Vimeo to reach your audience, but that could become more expensive, slow or difficult quite easily.
But in a world of super-abundance, where I can barely keep up with the content coming over the transom, this will be imperceptible to all but those stuck behind, trying to break through, and I suspect very few people will care. That’s one reason why it’s even more important to fight this trend now, before we forget why we’re even in the fight.
But the more important concerns are the loss of possible futures we can’t even imagine now. It’s hard to believe, but we’re at the very beginning of the revolution(s) brought about by digital, and what movies you get to watch are in many ways the least concern. Perhaps artists will come up with entire new artforms, utilizing new technologies still to be built, but they cant get them out to an audience because they’re made harder to find or censored from the web altogether?
And speaking of censorship, that becomes much easier under a non-neutral net as well. Incumbent powers who might be threatened by new competitors to their services, or regimes who don’t want certain voices heard already have it pretty easy, but the loss of net neutrality makes it even more assured that alternative voices, business models and visions of the future will be that much harder to find.