Would you like your epic adult-oriented fantasy in smaller chunks?
That might be what the future looks like if AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has anything to say about it. Speaking yesterday (May 23) at J.P. Morgan’s Global Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference, Stephenson -- whose company is about to get into the entertainment business in a huge way by acquiring Time Warner -- suggested that content might be re-edited and downsized for a theoretically "better" experience on mobile devices.
His brilliant idea? "Think about things like Game of Thrones,” he offered, according to Variety. “In a mobile environment, a 60-minute episode might not be the best experience. Maybe you want a 20-minute episode.”
Maybe that's what he wants, but that's not what I'm after, and I suspect most fans aren't either. To use his example, Game of Thrones is a complex show, driven by multiple plotlines and a vast array of characters, that fully uses the time afforded by each and every one-hour episode (and sometimes more). It's also made for watching on a decent-sized monitor. Does Stephenson really think such an undertaking would work in a 20-minute time frame on a tiny mobile screen?
Of course he doesn't. He's not a creator, so he's not interested in the best storytelling experience; instead, he's interested in making things "convenient" for customers to use on their phones, so they can get to the next thing. But convenience and the creative arts don't often go hand in hand, with Game of Thrones being a prime example. Would you want to watch a 20-minute version of an episode like "Blackwater" or "Hardhome," stripped down to essentially a "best-of" montage? Even cutting a 60-minute episode into three smaller blocks would play havoc with pacing, editing and the building of tension or drama.
Now, to be sure, this isn't happening anytime soon, but Stephenson does suggest that "the content geniuses and creative geniuses think about this, but curate the content uniquely for a mobile environment.” I trust I know already what the "creative geniuses" will say about it.
The other troubling aspect of this is the continued shrinking of our attention spans -- an affliction that seems to affect everyone from toddlers to the president of the United States -- which an idea like this can't help but encourage. Does everything have to be chopped down to the shortest time span possible so that we can "consume" it and move on?
I hope that's not the case. I hope that viewers enjoy long-form shows like Game of Thrones and American Gods, or movies like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the 150-minute Captain America: Civil War, because of the rich storytelling, the emphasis on characters and emotions, and the deliberate but still gripping unfolding of their narratives. I would hate to think that the future of entertainment is quick 20-minute installments of these tales that merely recap the story for people on the go.
And I also hope that Mr. Stephenson thinks a little more highly of his customers and their ability to view entertainment for a sustained amount of time, whether on a mobile device or otherwise. Surely a great story will trump a convenient one anytime. Right?