December 2, 2023

In actual fact, Selection itself had run, only a few days earlier, a pointed rebuke to the term from no much less an authority than the Oscar-winning actor and screenwriter Emma Thompson. “To listen to individuals speak about ‘content material’ makes me really feel just like the stuffing inside a settee cushion,” she stated on the Royal Tv Society convention in Britain final week.

“It’s only a impolite phrase for inventive individuals,” she added. “I do know there are college students within the viewers: You don’t need to hear your tales described as ‘content material’ or your appearing or your producing described as ‘content material.’ That’s identical to espresso grounds within the sink or one thing.”

Thompson’s not solely proper in regards to the implications of the phrasing. She’s proper in regards to the real-world influence of what’s, make no mistake, a devaluing of the inventive course of. Those that defend its use will insist that we want some sort of catchall phrase for the issues we watch, as beforehand crisp strains have blurred between films and tv, between dwelling and theatrical exhibition and between legacy and social media.

However these paradigm shifts require extra readability in our language, not much less. A phrase like “streaming film” or “theatrical launch” or “documentary podcast” communicates what, the place and why with much more precision than gibberish like “content material,” and if you wish to put all the things below one tent, “leisure” is proper there. However studio and streaming executives, who’re maybe the first customers and abusers of the time period, love to speak about “content material” as a result of it’s so wildly diminutive. It’s a fast and simple technique to reduce what writers, administrators and actors do, to behave as if leisure (or, dare I say it, artwork) is solely churned out — and may very well be churned out by anybody, sentient or not. It’s simply content material, it’s simply widgets, it’s all grist for the mill. Speaking about “leisure” is harmful as a result of it takes expertise to entertain; no such calls for are made from “content material,” and the trade’s growing curiosity within the potentialities of writing via artificial intelligence (one of many sticking factors of the writers’ strike) makes that crystal clear.

Maybe the best instance of this faculty of thought will be seen at Warner Bros. Discovery, the place David Zaslav ascended to the throne of chief government by overseeing the Discovery Channel’s transition from nature documentaries to actuality swill. The “content material”-ization of that conglomerate’s holdings is the one affordable rationalization for the choice to rename HBO Max as simply Max — eradicating the distinguished legacy media model that almost all clearheaded, marginally clever individuals would presume to be an asset. It lost 1.8 million subscribers in the process, however that’s merely the battle; it received the warfare, as a result of whenever you go to Max now, the front-page carousel is a mix of scripted sequence, HBO documentaries, true crime and actuality competitors reveals. It’s all on equal footing; it’s all content material. However “Casablanca,” “Succession” and “Dr. Pimple Popper” will not be the identical factor — and the programmers of a service that pretends in any other case are abdicating their accountability as curators.

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