As filmmakers caution about not watching films on our phones, Simon Brew discovers our tellies are getting much, much bigger anyway.

Appreciating that most of the narrative concerning director Martin Scorsese over the past few months has been dominated by thoughts on superhero movies, it’s worth looking at his further comments over the size of screens that people have been choosing to watch his latest film, The Irishman, on. For Scorsese made a passionate plea for people not to watch his film on their phone on the Popcorn With Peter Travers podcast. He argued that he’d made the film with various screen sizes in mind, but specifically said “please don’t look at it on a phone”, preferring “an iPad, a big iPad maybe”.

Of course, the trade-off when a film is made for Netflix is that fewer people than otherwise are likely to watch the movie in question away from a cinema. Conversely, no major studio or cinema chain would likely have funded the likes of Roma or The Irishman in the first place, yet alone programmed them extensively. Yet Scorsese also touches on a point less talked about: the size of screens outside of cinemas. Because, bluntly, our televisions are getting bigger. Most of us when we get to watch a film at home are watching in on a TV bigger than we’ve ever had before.

Size does matter

There are a number of factors at work here. Primarily, the price of larger screens has been falling. But also, the weight of them has made them manageable. Plus, there’s been more and more of a push to recreate the cinema experience at home.

Sure, lots of us watch movies on mobile devices. But there’s still a large number of us for whom a movie night involves putting the film on a television, emptying the fridge, and settling back for an evening’s viewing. The televisions that we’re buying are reflecting that (even if the sound systems don’t always, but that’s a whole article for another time).

Back in the late 90s, a large television was regarded as 32” in size. Given the technology at the time, you’d need two people to lift it into place too, and one of those would still have a backache. But as plasma screens and then LCDs have taken hold, the vast majority of us have a larger television than that now. Conversely, taking up a smaller footprint too. According to numbers from Statista, the average size of an LCD TV screen in the world in 2015 was already at 40.4”. That’s become entry level now, as that average size is growing – steady – at a rate of over half an inch a year. In 2019, the average screen size sits at 47.1”, and by 2021 the average telly of its ilk will be 48.5”.

At that rate, in five years’ time, the average will be over 50”, and a 40” screen will be the portable you keep in the bedroom.

Cost

What’s more, prices are falling too. Which? printed findings earlier this year that found that the newest models of television were tumbling by over 15% on average just months after they were launched. It identified one 65” LG model that fell further: its opening price was £1500, and six weeks later it was down to £900. Competition in the marketplace is fierce, and it means lots of us are getting bigger televisions than ever, for lower price tags.

And this in turn has a further impact. Televisions are coming loaded with the software for streaming services ready built-in, which helps fuel the move away from physical media too. But more of us have something akin to a big screen feel when we’re watching a film at home. In fact, I’d argue that the biggest fear Scorsese should have isn’t that people watch his films on their phones. It’s the other modern day movie-at-home trait: that people actually put their phones down when the film is on the television. There’s surely not a parent of a teenager out there who can’t relate to that.

Cinema

Does this all replace the cinema experience? Of course not. At its best, there’s something special about watching a film with an audience. It’s not just about the size of the screen and the sound system, it’s about the whole ‘event’ of watching a movie in a well-run and – ideally – well-policed cinema. On the flip side, of course, there have been frustrations with some cinemas over just how well they police those screens, and last time I checked my lounge wasn’t full of teenagers kicking over buckets of popcorn and talking through the film. Well, just the one, but let’s not quibble.

The home electronics industry is continuing to try to close the gap on cinema, just as cinema is moving into areas such as laser projection and deluxe screenings. In the home, the next big thing is apparently set to be 8K televisions, that few can see the need for. But mainly, a continuation of the screen size arms races means that whilst many do watch movies on their phones – because, let’s face it, it’s tricky to load a 40” telly onto the train for the morning commute – lots of us at home cherish the big screen too.

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