How Technology Helps Hollywood and Hurts Pro Sports

Kevin Drum did an interesting item the other day contrasting his waning interest in professional sports with the continued vitality of Hollywood. He attributed this to the contrast between the hypocrisy of the sports world, which pretends to be about something other than money, and the earnest greed of the movie business.

I blame technology. It used to be that a sporting event only had to compete for my eyeballs against whatever other TV programming happened to be on right at that moment. Oftentimes a regular season Mavericks-Celtics game or an ALCS matchup would win that competition in my eyes. But today thanks to Netflix, DVR, Hulu+ and related technologies that ALCS matchup has to compete against continuing to work my way through Breaking Bad. That’s a much tougher threshold. And the problem is especially bad for pro sports, because sporting interest tends to feature feedback loops. The less you watch of a given sport the less invested you feel in the various storylines of the season and the less likely you are to watch the next game.

Going out to the movies, though in some ways facing more direct competition from new entertainment technologies, benefits from the fact that it’s a more distinct kind of activity. For better or for worse going to the movies is all about leaving the house, and venturing out into a quasi-public space. That’s why movie-going has long disproportionately appealed to teenagers (who are desperate to get away from their parents) and not appealed much to parents of young children (who face added babysitter costs) for as long as television in general has been around to offer a zero marginal cost alternative