Is Cinema Flailing in The Shallows?

In the era of Netflix binge-watching it is unsurprising to hear that cinema attendance is going down in our society. With the average rate of cinema attendance in 2014 at 68% and the average frequency per Australian at 6.8 times a year (Screen Australia, 2016). 

Meanwhile the online streaming site Netflix, continues to steadily rise in Australia, with 13.9% of the population subscribed by the end of 2015 (Roy Morgan, 2016).

So what is the reason behind this steady decline in cinema attendance in Australia? Why are we increasingly choosing stay-at-home film services in lieu of going out and enjoying the big screen?

Well it may have something to do with Torsten Hagerstand.

According to Hagerstand, there are three human constraints that we must either fail or succeed through in order to travel to a particular place at a particular time (Hagerstrand 1970, cited in Schonfelder & Azhausen 2010). These constraints are:

  1. Capability: Meaning can you travel to that place? Can you walk there? Or drive there? Do you have a car? Or is the weather okay to drive in?
  2. Coupling: Meaning can you get to that place at the same time as the people you are going with? Do you have to pick up somebody else in your car? Or meet at the same train station?
  3. Authority: Meaning are you allowed to go to the place that you want to go? Is it legal? Or safe? Are you old enough? Or have the money necessary to enter that place?

If each of these constraints are overcome, then that person has arrived at their destination, at the right time, with the right people, with the right means of access to that place.

Image result for we did it
Source: 2015 Make A Meme

So what does this all have to do with cinemas and Netflix?

Well, to put it simply, Netflix does not have these constraints.

When I feel like watching a film at home on my Netflix I do not need to worry about how I am going to arrive at my house, or when I arrive there, or whether I have the authority to watch the films that are on Netflix. I just turn on my laptop, click on Netflix, and go. There’s the film; waiting for me.

Image result for how to watch netflix
…As long as I can decide what to watch. Source: SilverOakCasino.Com

To go to the cinema means to have to succeed those constraints that Hagerstand mentioned, which honestly speaking, is a lot of effort compared to the relative ease of Netflix.

Now that’s not to say that Netflix is without constraints. To be able to watch Netflix, you have to pay for the subscription, pay for the internet, and pay for the device that you are watching it on. You are also limited by what Netflix chooses to show, when they show it, and even where they choose to show it, as not all countries have the same availability as each other (Turner, 2016). And it is also just not the same experience that going to the movie theatre is.

Which is why, last Thursday I overcame my own constraints to attend my local cinema with my sister.

Image result for event cinemas liverpool
Source: Fernando de Sousa/ Wikimedia Commons
  1. Capability: To get to the cinema I had to drive my sister and myself the 15 mins from our house to the theatre. This also meant I had to have petrol in the car, and be legally able to drive.
  2. Coupling: This was the greatest issue of our endeavour. Since on this particular day I arrived home from uni at 6.30, and needed to be at the cinema at 7.20. My sister was particularly anxious on this constraint, with the text she sent me at 6.00 “Where are you?”. However we managed to leave at 7.00 and arrived (after finding a park) at the cinema at 7.23. Meaning that we were late for the beginning of the ads, but not much else.
  3. Authority: Now this was my favourite part of the constraints, since my sister actually works at this particular cinema; we got in for free. But we then had to buy popcorn and drinks (which my sister paid for since I drove).

Thus, with each constraint overcome, we were able to sit down and watch a film that is not yet available in the comfort of my Netflix; The Shallows.

While the film itself was fairly predictable, and even a little ridiculous, the experience of sitting in the theatre, with the deafening ‘shark’ music ever nearing definitely made me like the movie more than had I watched it on the tiny screen and tinny headphones of my laptop.

This is the experience of cinema that makes it still a viable media form in our current society of film-on-demand. Being able to sit with a bunch of strangers, and collectively gasp in shock at even the most anticipated of shark-jump-scares.



Roy Morgan. (2016). Netflix finishes 2015 reaching 2,728,000 Australians. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Aug. 2016].

Schonfelder, S & Axhausen KW 2010, ‘Time, Space and Travel Analysis: An Overview’, in S Schonfelder & KW Axhausen (eds), Urban Rhythms and Travel Behaviour: Spatial and Temporal Phenomena of Daily Travel, Ashgate Publishing Company, Surrey, p.29-48.

Screen Australia. (2016). Attendance patterns – Audiences – Cinema – Fact Finders – Screen Australia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Aug. 2016].

Turner, A. (2016). Netflix tightens geo-blocking crackdown over weekend, geo-dodgers fight back. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: [Accessed 26 Aug. 2016].



  1. I’d never thought of my Netflix consumption in relation to time (except as a way of wasting time I should be using for other things). I always thought it was a money thing, but I have a $6.50 movie theatre close by. In reality, I’m probably spending more money on Netflix in relation to how much I use it!

    This post is also giving me major BCM210 nostalgia!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well that’s great Amy. In your case the capability constraints of distance and price to the movie theatre is actually equal or even less than the ones that are connected to Netflix. You also then end up getting a more in-depth and engaging experience at the cinema.


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