The Travelling Filter Bubble

In the past, one of the perks of long-haul air travel was the latest movies – viewable on planes way in advance of their home rental release – and the subsequent opportunity to spoil the plot twists for friends who hadn’t yet seen the film.

And on arrival in a new country, there was the additional joy of turning on the hotel TV to be confronted by an array of baffling game shows in a language you didn’t understand, all of which were regarded as hilariously funny by the studio audience. This provided the inspiration for Paul Whitehouse’s Channel 9 “Scorchio” skit on The Fast Show:


No more. Thanks to subscription video services, cheap internet access and satellite connections in the sky, our viewing habits often remain unchanged whether we’re at 30,000 feet or 4,000 miles from home.

I see increasing numbers of air travellers who simply load up their tablets with downloaded movies and TV shows to watch on-board, leaving the seat-back screens dusty and untouched. As high-altitude internet access becomes cheaper, I suspect they will simply stream their favourites directly.

And on arrival in a foreign country, tourists confronted by a smart TV can simply log in to their account on Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. and pick up (literally) where they left off at home. Even the dumbest TV has a socket into which a streaming device like Google’s Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick can be plugged, allowing holidaying couch potatoes to beam familiar footage to the screen.

It’s all part of the steady trend towards global homogenisation, of course, but it also potentially affects how films and TV shows are made. At the moment they’re often tailored heavily to local demand. Clearly that practice isn’t going to vanish any time soon. But as their customers increasingly take their content with them wherever they go, the streaming services may well regard geographical localisation as an anachronism – each individual viewer might no longer be regarded as being within a particular country with a particular culture, but simply as a single point in space and time. The viewing options they’re presented with may be defined by their previous consumption, far more than the milieu surrounding them.

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