Film vs. Television


The differences between film and television have been evaluated by many media scholars since the mainstream adaptation of television by Americans in the late 1950s.  Fascinating theories surrounding this topic have been proposed including how people view movies in a theater versus television at home (upright/ leaning forward vs. passively leaning back, respectively) to countless discussions of the approach to content.  Structural format of programs aside, film and television differ primarily in their scope.  Simply put, television addresses more relevant subjects than motion pictures due to the lengthy production turnaround required for films.  Broadcasts news, first-run syndicated series, alternative programming and scripted series can be produced on television far more efficiently than film; often immediately.  As Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death, “…there is no subject of public interest-politics, news, education, religion, science, sports – that does not find its way to television.” (78)   The added time required by films is due to the exorbitant above- and below –the-line costs which usually require financing from multiple channels as well as a comprehensive distribution strategy – each of which takes time.  (Note: This discussion only regards studio films, not necessarily independent films.)  Consequently, people expect television to address issues instantly whereas films face no such pressure.  Films are instead pressured to deliver value to consumers who elect to pay for entertainment despite its free cost elsewhere.

There is no expectation among audiences that films will address specific current events directly such as recent world violence or campaign results.  Once television emerged, the studios closed their newsreel divisions and focused solely on the distribution of films, effectively ending the demand for up-to-the-minute information at theaters.  Despite this difference in content, both distribution channels continue to be profitable due to the appeal of entertainment, no matter the subject.


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